Troubled by increasing number of complaints by senior army officers against promotions, the defence ministry has established a committee to review the promotion policy for army officers. Tasked with infusing “more objectivity, transparency and fairness in the system”, the two-member committee, with retired Lt Generals GS Katoch and AK Ahuja as members, is scheduled to submit its report by February 16. The terms of reference of the committee, as given by the ministry, have asked it to “study and recommend appropriate amendments in the Quantified System of Selection (QSS) in order to infuse more objectivity, transparency and fairness in the system”. Besides recommending “changes required in the promotion policy presently followed in the army”, the committee has also been asked to suggest a “model calendar of selection boards”
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The establishment of such a committee by the defence ministry is unusual on two counts. One, promotion policies for each of the defence services have so far been formulated by the service headquarters and approved by the defence ministry. This is the first time that the ministry is getting directly involved in army’s promotion policy. Two, the expert committee will only deal with promotions in the army, and does not include the navy and the Indian air force (IAF).
“The committee deals only with the army because maximum number of complaints about promotions come from the army. The IAF has streamlined its promotion system, where the vacancies in every financial year and the schedule of promotion boards is fixed. This is not the case with the army where promotion boards can be advanced or delayed, giving a perception that the system is being manipulated,” defence ministry sources explained.
The army follows the QSS for promotion since 2011, which came into vogue following the orders of the Supreme Court. In this system, only 5% marks are as per discretion of the army commanders who constitute the selection board. Defence ministry sources contend that as most senior army officials are rated as Outstanding – or given nine out of nine points in that confidential assessment reports – there is an increasing perception that the system is unfair.
“We asked the army to look at the system the IAF follows but their contention was that they are much larger and different organisation. Our initial attempt was for self-regulation from the army. After that, in consultation with the army, we ordered this committee,” defence ministry sources said.
Sources in the army, however, told The Indian Express that QSS was in any case due for a review in 2016 and they had sent a voluminous review report to the ministry in May last year. This report was prepared after an army committee visited 87 military stations for feedback, and the draft report was deliberated in the army commanders conference for the past 18 months. Another review report on the system of promotion and selection was sent to the ministry in November last year. Both the issues have now been handed over to this expert committee, army sources said, which is being assisted by a Brigadier from the army headquarters.
The army is expecting the committee to resolve issues pertaining to tenure of a corps commander, which is currently fixed at 12 months, and the minimum service requirement of two years to become an army commander. They also expect the committee to recommend measures to get the right balance between staff and command appointments for senior officers.
Sources in the army are, however, worried about defence ministry getting directly involved in the promotion board from Major Generals to Lt Generals via recommendations of this committee. Defence ministry sources told The Indian Express that they are not harbouring any such intentions.