The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has ruled that there cannot be different set of medical standards for promotion for Combat Arms and Services in the Army in any rank, and in particular senior ranks of Major General and above, where they are to “lead from the front” and set examples for others in the organisation to follow.
The Principal Bench of the AFT made these comments in its judgment in the case of a Brigadier of the Army Education Corps (AEC) who had not been promoted to the rank of Major General despite being approved by a promotion board because he was medically unfit. The Brigadier had contended that since the only post, which he was to hold as a Major General was located in New Delhi he could be posted there in his low medical category too.
The bench comprising Justice Virender Singh and Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra (retd) has said that medical fitness for promotion to higher ranks is an important facet of military services considering the nature of duties performed.
“There is no dispute that the requirement of medical fitness is applied uniformly to Combat Arms, Combat Support Arms and Services, including minor corps. An officer, right from his joining the service till he leaves, is subjected to same medical standards applicable for all officers,” the bench said.
It added that to question the validity of application of similar medical standards for all officers in the Army, irrespective of their Arm, Service or their rank, “is to question the organisation, structure and ethos of the Army,” which is not in the realm of the court. “By allowing discretion and liberal application of medical status for promotion or employment to some Arms or Services or specifically to some officers would make the entire policy discriminatory and biased, which shall be detrimental for a disciplined organisation like the Army,” the order read.
The bench said that all officers, at the time of joining the Army, follow the same medical standards and eligibility criteria, irrespective of the Arms or Service that they subsequently serve. Consequently, they take oath to serve at land, sea or air, whenever the situation so demands.
“Medical fitness continues to remain a hallmark of their growth in the Army and their consequent employment as they rise in ranks. Tinkering with this sacred yardstick or questioning the validity of this would shake the very edifice, on which the foundation of the Indian Army is built on. We, thus, have no hesitation to state unequivocally that there cannot and should not be different set of medical standards for promotion for Combat Arms and Service in any rank and in particular senior ranks of Major General and above, where they are to lead from the front and set examples for others in the organisation to follow,” the bench said.
However, the bench has also said that there is a need for the government to re-visit the guidelines set for the classification of officers suffering from hypertension so as to void any ambiguity in future.
The AFT order deals with the new health care system in the Army introduced in 2011, which laid down the policy and medical classification of officers. Under this policy a COPE Coding System was put in place to guide the employability of Army Officers under: (a) C – Climate and terrain restrictions (b) O – Degree of medical observation required (c) P – Physical capability limitation (d) E – Exclusive limitations as per disease. In that, with each alphabet depicting a different level and type of restriction/limitation on the serving officers of the Army.