Policies concerning armed forces can be duly modified to ensure discipline in the Force and maintain its uniformity without any distinction of caste, creed, religion and sex

Supreme Court: Dismissing the present appeal wherein the appellant (enrolled as an airman with the Indian Air Force) had challenged the decision of the Air Officer Commanding for refusing his application seeking permission to keep a beard on religious grounds, since he is a Muslim, the three judge bench of T.S. Thakur, C.J., Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageshwar Rao, JJ., observed that regulations and policies with regard to the personal appearance of the Armed Forces in general and Air Force in particular were not laid down with the intention of creating discrimination between the officers on the basis of religion, rather the regulations have been implemented to ensure uniformity, discipline and order among the Air Force personnel, which also is an integral part of any armed force of the Union of India. The Court held that the appellant could not prove that his case lies within the exception enshrined in Regulation 425(b) of the Regulations of Indian Air Force, therefore the decision of the Commanding Officer in refusing to allow the appellant to keep his beard, was taken in the interest of maintaining uniformity in the Air Force and that the Commanding Officer was acting within his jurisdiction.

Regulation 425(b) of the Regulations of Indian Air Force, states that an air force officer can sport a beard or retain a beard only where there is a religious command which prohibits either the hair being cut or a beard being shaved. A per the policy clarifications issued from time to time, the status as regards to Regulation 425(b) is that any person joining service after 1st January, 2002 will not be allowed to maintain a beard unless his religion demands sporting a beard, and would be allowed to do so provided they were granted permission prior to the date of the letter or had grown a beard at the time of joining Air Force. On inquiring that whether keeping a beard is an integral part of Islam, the counsel for the appellant Shri Salman Khurshid stated that there are various interpretations and one of which states that it is ‘desirable’ to keep a beard.

Perusing the facts and the Regulation of Indian Air Force, the Court observed that as long as the provisions of Regulation 425(b) are not breached, a policy can be modulated and revisited for the interest of the Air Force and to ensure discipline in the Force which is paramount and is interconnected with the need to protect the nation against any threat. It was vehemently stressed by the Court that the Air Force being a combat force, it becomes necessary that all it’s officers and personnel are bound by the sense of Espirit-de-Corps without any distinction of caste, creed, colour and religion. [Mohammed Zubair v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1472, decided on 15.12.2016]

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