With the Supreme Court heavily fining the Military Secretary’s (MS) branch of the Army Headquarters in a case pertaining to delayed promotion board of officers last week, the functioning of the branch has come in focus with a number of adverse comments having been made about it in court judgments.
The MS branch is responsible for promotions and postings of Army officers and despite having been repeatedly adversely commented upon, little seems to have changed on ground. In a recent decision of Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), pertaining to a Brigadier who was denied promotion, the tribunal observed that the statements of the MS Branch were “absolutely incorrect and condemnable” and that facts were being distorted before judicial bodies by devising ways to conceal the truth which “rocked and shocked” judicial conscience.
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In yet another recent case involving a Lt Col who had alleged sexual harassment against his seniors, the Lucknow Bench of the AFT had come down heavily upon the ‘omissions and commissions’ of the MS Branch. The same branch had been saddled with costs of Rupees 50 lakhs by the same bench which was later stayed by the Supreme Court. In yet another case of a Brigadier whose ACR had been moderated behind his back, the Principal Bench of the AFT had observed that such actions were ‘totally arbitrary and malafide’ further recording that ‘it speaks volumes that such kind of illegality could be committed against an officer’.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Col SK Aggarwal (retd), a former officer of the Judge Advocate General’s branch, who has handled several cases pertaining to MS branch, said that much was desired in the way of transparency in functioning of the branch. “Their functioning has always been opaque and the fairness of the selection boards has foten come under a cloud. I have been Officer in-Charge legal cell and I can say with authority that many times the truth is hidden in court cases,”. He added that while it is claimed that the selection system is based on seniority cum merit but when cases comes to court the merit list is not produced and only the result of promotion boards are produced.
The working of the MS branch and also the Defence Ministry in dealing with promotions and confidential reports of officers had also come into sharp scrutiny by a Committee of Experts constituted by the Defence Minister whose report was declassified earlier this year. The committee, comprising senior Army officers and legal experts, had adversely commented upon sudden changes in policy, non-adherence of time limits for deciding complaints and lack of transparency in the process leading to unwanted litigation.
But the most shocking aspect officially recorded by the Committee was that the Army HQ had made a suggestion for sensitising the judiciary to ‘curb judgements based on individual/judicial perceptions’. While passing strictures against the Army HQ, the panel observed, “This to our mind, besides being contemptuous, militates against the very basic knowledge that there is no greater failing than the executive trying to influence or ‘sensitize’ judicial bodies”.
Further observing that it was a suggestion for overreaching judicial bodies, the committee said that it hoped that the tendency to overreach judicial forums is nipped in the bud since courts were not government offices but independent institutions whose majesty was to be respected.Commenting adversely on the system of deciding complaints of officers, the panel observed that the current system did not reflect independent application of mind and that a three member ‘Grievances Examination Committee’ (GEC) consisting of one senior military and civil officer each and one independent expert should be set up to examine grievances in a time bound manner.