Military nurses had been seeking to be treated at par with other military officers, including doctors.
New Delhi: The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is working to change the definition of ‘ex-servicemen’
to include women officers of the Military Nursing Service (MNS). It has, in principle, decided to grant them the status of ex-servicemen after having resisted the move for nearly 10 years.
The decision comes in the wake of the Supreme Court directing the MoD to file a reply on the issue. The apex court’s order came on a central government petition challenging an Armed Forces Tribunal verdict in 2010, which had directed the government to treat military nurses at par with regular commissioned officers of the three services in terms of rank and entitlements.
The AFT judgement was on a petition filed by former MNS officer, Major General Usha Sikder, urging nursing officers be treated at par with all other officers. An Army order of April 2004 had stated that MNS officers were not at par with rest of the officers of the services, including doctors.
In her plea, Major General Sikdar had said she was “humiliated and insulted” during her visit to a naval hospital in Mumbai by the then Commanding Officer, Rear Admiral V.K. Singh, who she alleged “unceremoniously” denied her an “authorised” staff car with star plate and flag signifying her rank.
Soon after the AFT ruling in her favour, the government had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court challenging it.
28 issues raised by MNS officers
With the issue in a legal tangle, the MoD has now given an “in principle” go-ahead to granting the MNS officers the status of ex-servicemen, and also to the use of appointment plates in their official vehicles from the rank of Brigadier and above.
The demands were part of 28 issues raised by the MNS officers, but the ministry is set to resist some of the other issues.
To bring military nurses under the ex-servicemen purview, the current definition of ex-servicemen needs to be amended, Army sources told.
They added that the MoD has had discussions with the Department of Training and Personnel (DoPT) to work on tweaking the definition so that military nurses can officially be granted the status of ex-servicemen.
“There is a technical issue with the definition of ex-servicemen and that is being sorted by the ministry,” a source said.
Sources said the technical difficulties also arose because of the fact that the MNS was constituted through the Indian Military Nursing Serving Ordinance, 1943, and not through an act.
Women are commissioned as officers in the MNS, which is under the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS). There are around 5,300 serving military nurses.
The move comes as a shot in the arm for the women officers of the service, as they have been fighting a long legal battle for the restoration of their overall status.
At present, military nurses are entitled to canteen facilities, pension, and Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) benefits. Once granted the status of ex-servicemen, they will be eligible to get ex-servicemen identity cards, re-employment avenues in state government and Defence PSUs. They will also have a better chance to get into army resettlement courses and some benefits in terms of admission of their children to colleges.
As per a government press release, MNS officers have played a pivotal role during four wars with Pakistan—in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999—and are presently serving with troops in the troubled states of Jammu and Kashmir & in the Northeast, and with combat troops deployed abroad in UN missions.