Quashing the medical board proceedings that rendered 17 officers in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel in low medical category (LMC), making them ineligible for promotion, the Armed forces Tribunal has directed the army to review their cases for elevation to the next higher rank. The AFT, in its order passed Wednesday, also found found the rejection by the medical board, based on a notification by the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), to be arbitrary.
The 17 officers who had moved the AFT, and whose petitions had been clubbed together, were considered by their respective selection boards in 2021 and were approved for promotion to the ranks of Colonel and Brigadier respectively based on their overall professional record and merit. Since all of them were in the low medical category and within the permissible limit, they were subsequently considered by a special review medical board (SRMB) in June and July last year. The SRMB declared them unfit for physical promotion on the basis of a special advisory by the DMA.
Quashing the SRMB advice, the AFT noted that the medical category is not a criterion for empanelment, but is a criteria for physical promotion. “Once an officer is empanelled, his professional competence for the job is already proven. While it is indisputable that low medical category officers who cannot optimally discharge their duties owing to their medical condition are not promoted, the organisation opined that with suitable relaxation of medical conditions, it would be possible for the organisation to avail the services of such competent officers, who can be employed as per their medical restriction,” noted the AFT in its order.
An analysis of data of previous review medical boards by the AFT revealed that while in previous proceedings, officers with certain medical conditions had been cleared for promotion, in the case of the petitioners the officers with same ailments had not been cleared. The AFT found that the proceedings of these medical boards, which had been presided upon by a Corps Commander (Lt gen) and a Army Commander (Lt Gen), respectively, had not endorsed any reason why each officer had been found unfit for command and or other staff duties.
Referring to the advisory issued by the DMA, the AFT noted that “…it is our considered opinion that this advisory perhaps has weighed rather disproportionately heavily on the board members in deciding the possible employment of each officer based on their individual employment restrictions due to their medical category”.
Quashing the proceedings of the review medical boards, the AFT ordered that they should reconsider the petitioners afresh within two months. It has also ordered that necessary instructions should be issued for the medical board to record detailed reasons as to why an officer is unfit for command or staff duties.
“Ensure that any modification in the current policy be only implemented after the existing policy is formally amended after due deliberations. Formulate and lay down guidelines how generic medical conditions and its restrictions are to be interpreted and applied to classify officers being considered by Special Review Medical Board (SRMB) as fit/unfit,” the AFT ordered.