The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has upheld the changes made by the Army Headquarters in the year 2014 in the nomination parameters of prestigious courses like the Higher Command, Higher Defence Management Course, Air Higher Command and Naval Higher Command Course which involved excluding the weightage given to officers for gallantry awards.
The principal bench of the AFT made the decision on a petition, by an officer, challenging the changes made in the parameters when the selection for the said courses was in progress.
The AFT bench said that they do not find any irrationality or arbitrariness in the decision by the Army Headquarters.
“We do not find any irrationality in deleting this from the earlier policy as it does suffer from any constitutional or statutory violation nor is it arbitrary,” the bench said in its verdict.
The petitioner had maintained that he had been commissioned in an infantry battalion and had seen extensive field service and had been awarded Sena Medal for gallantry in Manipur in counter insurgency operations and was also given Sena Medal for ensuring zero infiltration while commanding his battalion on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.
Arguing that the Higher Command and equivalent Courses are important milestones in the career of an Army officer, the petitioner said these courses create a selected pool of officers who hold all important assignments at Colonel rank and act as reservoir for selection of all future higher military commanders who should be capable to lead at higher level in the Indian Army.
He brought out that the nomination parameters for Higher Command have been changed more than five times between 1997 to 2014. In a policy dating to 2010, weightage was given to field service and gallantry awards but in another policy decision in June 2013 the marks for field service were excluded while marks for gallantry awards were retained. Again, in a policy decision in January 2014, the marks for gallantry awards were also excluded.
The petitioner claimed that the Army HQs tinkered with selection parameters for nomination on Higher Command Course at the 11th hour when the screening process was either on or was to commence. As a consequence of this change of policy, the petitioner claimed that he got excluded from nomination to the said course and that the exercise was undertaken to ensure the exclusion of some of the officers who had a very good service profile and to include those who did not have any gallantry awards awarded to them.
“The changes which are effected from time to time by the Military Secretariat are arbitrary and are not based on detailed study,” the petition claimed and contended that the Military Secretariat believes in the principle “show him the person and he will tell you the Rule.”
The Army’s contention was that the change in the policy was a result of prolonged and detailed analysis, extensive simulation models and came after incorporating the views of the officers over a period of two years. The change in the policy for criteria on nomination was approved by the Chief of Army and this was done with an aim to provide a level playing field to all officers and to reward officers with consistent performance in the overall interest of the organization.
Giving the rationale for removal of weightage for gallantry awards, the Army said that this was done to avoid giving multiple benefits for one act of bravery to the same officer over a long stretch of period and that due recognition is given to it for two promotion boards and one important career course.
The Army further argued that the act of gallantry is an act which was performed at a particular time for which the officer is given the recognition through the gallantry award. “Merely because he is an awardee, he cannot claim the right of preferential treatment in perpetuity,” the Army argued.
On the question of removal of weightage in field service, the Army contended that posting in a field area is always subject to administrative convenience. Therefore, a person may not get a chance to serve in field area more than once while some may never get a chance to serve in the field area. Therefore, it was found that some meritorious officers missed out their nomination for not having been posted in field area, the Army contended.