16 yrs after Ist woman was commissioned, only 5000 serve in forces

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New Delhi, Jun 8 (UNI) Sixteen years after the first woman officer was comissioned, only a little over 5000 serve the Armed Forces today.

The induction of women officers in the thre Services -- Army, Navy and Air Force -- started in 1992. According to Defence Ministry records, today there are 5137 women officers serving in the armed forces.

If the number of officers serving in Army Medical Corps (AMC), Army Dental Corps (ADC) and Military Nursing Services (MNS) is included, then Army has 4101, Air Force 784 and Navy 252 women officers respectively.

But at the same time if the officers serving in AMC, ADC and MNS are excluded, the number stands much less -- Army 918, Navy 705 (including 41 naval aviators) and Air Force 100, including several pilots. The total comes to 1723.

Defence Minister A K Antony had informed the Rajya Sabha in March this year that appointment of women officers has been progressively extended to different Arms/Services in the three services. They are, however, not being commissioned into close combat arms in the Army.

In the Air Force, women are being inducted in all combatant streams except fighter stream. In the Navy, there have been restrictions in employing women officers to onboard ships and submarines. ''The issues of combat employability and grant of permanent commission are interlinked. Due to the existing combat employability restrictions, Permanent Commission to women officers could not be considered,'' he added.

A study carried out by the Services on the issue has recommended that women officers be excluded from induction in close combat Arms where chances of physical contact with enemy are high.

The study has concluded that it is essential to obtain feedback on their performance based on revised pre-commission training (from 24 weeks to 49 weeks), detailment on courses, such as junior command course and assessment of their performance as sub-unit commanders especially in field areas; for holding higher ranks and grant of Permanent Commission.

Addressing the Army Commanders' Conference here in April this year, Mr Antony said it was high time women are granted their due in the Services.

''I have given an assurance in the Rajya Sabha that the (Defence) Ministry will look into the aspect of grant of permanent commission to women in the non-combatant stream, to begin with. It is a commitment that we all must honour and endeavour to achieve this objective on priority,'' he told the Army Commanders.

The National Defence Academy (NDA), that trains male cadets to eventually serve as officers in the Indian defence forces, has welcomed the idea of opening its doors to women. ''After a decision is taken by the authorities we will need some time to build the necessary infrastructure (for women cadets),'' NDA commandant Air Marshal T S Randhawa had said.

UNI NAB SY BST1308

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