The Supreme Court last week stayed an order of the Armed Forces Tribunal, which had, on March 2, quashed the Army’s 2009 promotion policy. The matter will now be heard on April 15. SUSHANT SINGH recaps the controversy, and explains the issues in the case.
What is the Army officers’ promotion case about?
The dispute is over the distribution of vacancies of Colonels to various branches (arms and services) of the Army, viz. Infantry, Artillery, Armoured Corps, Engineers, Signals, Mechanised Infantry, etc. Before 2009, the number of Colonels in each branch was pro rata, i.e., proportional to the number of officers in the rank of Lt Col and below. After 2009, the Army switched to a Command Exit policy, which has benefitted the Infantry and Artillery at the cost of other arms and services. Five officers approached the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) against the policy. Last month, the AFT upheld their contention, and ruled that the Command Exit policy violated Article 14. The government filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court against the AFT judgment. On March 25, the SC stayed the AFT ruling. The next hearing is on 15 April.
Does this policy also affect promotions of senior officers?
Yes. The numbers of Brigadiers, Maj Generals and Lt Generals in various arms is decided on a pro rata basis from the number of Colonels in each arm. If the AFT order is upheld, it will reduce the number of Colonels from the Infantry and Artillery, and will subsequently cut the numbers of Brigadiers, Maj Generals and Lt Generals from these two arms.
How and why was the new promotion policy adopted?
The 1999 Kargil Review Committee recommended younger Battalion and Brigade Commanders: 37 years and 45 years respectively. The government formed the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC) in July 2001 to restructure the officer cadre. The AVSC report was submitted in 2003, and the government approved upgradation of 1,484 posts of Lt Colonels to Colonels in two phases. In Phase I, 750 vacancies were distributed in 2004 and 2005 on pro rata basis to various arms and services. But the release of 734 vacancies of Colonels in Phase II in 2009 followed the Command Exit model.
What is the argument for the Command Exit Policy?
While filing the SLP, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told SC that the Infantry alone “faces the bullets” and serves in the toughest areas. It thus needs to have a larger number of Colonels. He argued for faster Infantry promotions because the Pakistani and Chinese armies have younger battalion commanders. Similar arguments presented by Army Headquarters before the AFT were rejected. The Army had also argued in the AFT that the promotion policy was its internal matter, and did not warrant intervention from the judiciary.
What has been the impact of this case on the Army?
From the original group of five, the number of officers trying to become a party to the case has gone up to 200. On the Internet and social media, officers and veterans have warned of a demotivated and fractured Army, should the 2009 policy be upheld. In case of a war, it might adversely affect the cohesion and performance of the Army, they have warned. On the other hand, officers and veterans of the Infantry and Artillery argue that considering the risky nature of their job and the hard postings, they deserve a larger share of senior ranks.
Lt Gen (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain, an Infantry officer who retired as Military Secretary, has said that the Command Exit model was not needed, and that he supports reverting to the pro rata model. Srinath Raghavan, who served in the Infantry and is now a Senior Fellow at Centre of Policy Research, too has called the 2009 policy discriminatory and unwarranted.