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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

CDS selection pool widened: Rtd, serving 3-star officers too eligible

Announcement imminent; 3 chiefs who retired after September 2021 out of reckoning.

Written by Krishn Kaushik | New Delhi |
Updated: June 8, 2022 5:43:26 am
Former Chief of Defence Staff late General Bipin Rawat. (File)

Six months after General Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, died in a helicopter crash, the government has amended service rules of the armed forces, making all serving and recently retired three-star officers — Lt General, Air Marshal and Vice Admiral — under the age of 62 eligible for the post of CDS, according to notifications brought out by the government.

The new rules mean that the recently retired chiefs of services will not be considered. The amendments also indicate that an announcement on the new CDS is imminent.

The CDS is the most senior uniformed officer in rank, the first among equals — the only four-star officers in the country are the CDS, the chiefs of the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force.

But according to the new rules, all three-star and four-star officers from the three services, including those who retired in the last two years, will be eligible for consideration. The government, however, has put an age limit of 62 years. Since service chiefs retire at the age of 62, the three service chiefs who retired in quick succession since September 2021 are ruled out.

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On Monday, the government amended the Army Rules, 1954; the Naval Ceremonial, Conditions of Service and Miscellaneous Regulations, 1963; and the Air Force Regulations, 1964 to add that the “Central Government may, if considered necessary, in public interest, so to do, appoint as Chief of Defence Staff, an officer” who is serving as Lieutenant General, Vice Admiral, Air Marshal or General, Admiral, Air Chief Marshal “or an officer who has retired” from these ranks, “but has not attained the age of sixty-two years on the date of his appointment.” It said the government may extend the service of the CDS for such a period as it may deem necessary subject to a maximum age of 65.

This means that all Lt Generals in the Army and equivalent officers in the Navy and Air Force, who retired after June 2020, are under consideration.

It also means that General MM Naravane, who retired as Army chief in April when he turned 62, will not be considered. Naravane was considered a frontrunner for the CDS ever since the post fell vacant in December. Admiral Karambir Singh, who retired as Navy chief in November 2021, and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, who retired as IAF chief in September 2021, will also not be eligible for consideration.

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Among the three service chiefs Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari is the most senior and is officiating as head of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Admiral R Hari Kumar is the second most senior officer, and General Manoj Pande, who took over as  Army chief in May, is third in seniority.

Explained

Can be tricky

The amended rules widen the pool from which the CDS can be appointed, making retired three-star officers eligible for the post. But this can be tricky given that the serving chiefs, who are four-star officers, will have to report to a retired three-star officer if he is named CDS.

Appointment of a serving or a retired three-star officer over the serving four-star officers can create some issues. Even for the service chiefs, usually the most senior officer of the service is appointed, but that is a convention, and not a rule, and there have been exceptions.

General Bipin Rawat, the first CDS, died in a helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu on December 8, 2021. Appointed on December 31, 2019, he was to have a three-year tenure until the end of this year.

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It has been six months since Rawat’s death, but the government is yet to announce a replacement. But the amendments to the service rules for the Army, Navy and Air Force now throws open the field of potential candidates because the government can look beyond the serving officers.

The mandate of the CDS, as the primary military advisor to the government, also includes creating jointness among the armed forces, creation of integrated theatre commands, and prioritising capital acquisition for the modernisation of the forces. It was created as a dual-hatted role, since the CDS was also appointed as Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs.

It was touted as one of the most significant reforms in the top echelons of the military, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the creation of the post of the CDS during his Independence Day speech in 2019.

The post has been vacant since December 2021, and some of the work has since slowed down, or stalled. Before his death, Rawat had commissioned officers at the level of General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (heading a command) in each of the services to come up with a report on what the possible integrated theatre commands could look like. These reports, due for submission earlier this year, are yet to be finalised.

Four to five integrated theatre commands have been envisioned: One for air defence, one maritime command for maritime defence, and either two land-based theatre commands, looking at the western border (Pakistan) and northern border (China), or an additional integrated command which includes the area under the Northern Army Command at the moment, looking at the borders with Pakistan and China in the UTs of J&K and Ladakh.

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The integrated commands will have resources from all the three services available under them, depending on the requirement. The Theatre Commander will have operational control over all such resources, and will report to the Chiefs of Staff Committee headed by the CDS.

But there has also been discussion on possible changes in the role of the CDS. Splitting the responsibilities of Secretary, DMA, from the CDS has been considered, but a final decision is yet to be taken.

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First published on: 07-06-2022 at 06:05:12 pm
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