Two retired major generals might return to service
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Nov 12
In an unprecedented indictment of the Army’s arbitrary promotion policy, Delhi High Court on Monday overturned an entire promotion board, in which major generals from the 1975 batch were evaluated for promotion to lieutenant general. The court also upbraided the defence ministry (MoD) for endorsing promotions that it knew were procedurally flawed.
Now, the Army faces the humiliating prospect of bringing back two major generals from retirement, since the fresh board seems likely to approve them for promotion. Worse, some lieutenant generals who were promoted by the impugned board could be rejected when legitimate promotion criteria are applied. This could trigger further litigation.
The judgment quotes liberally from Army Headquarters (HQ) documents and MoD notings that detail the Army’s arbitrary changes of promotion policy. It illustrates the MoD’s meek endorsement of these changes, and its acquiescence when Army HQ violates the ministry’s written conditions and guidelines.
The case relates to two decorated senior officers — major generals Darshan Lal Chowdhary and VSS Goudar — who were poised for promotion to lieutenant general, until a delayed and procedurally flawed promotion board sent them home instead. The judgment found that the Army twice delayed the promotion board for “no justifiable reason”; then violated MoD orders by implementing a policy change that would work against Chowdhary and Goudar; and then quickly held the promotion board within three days of that illegitimate policy change.
“I was amongst the most decorated major generals in my batch and was heading for promotion, since military decorations weighed heavily in the prevailing promotion criteria,” says Maj Gen VSS Goudar , who was on former Army chief General JJ Singh ’s staff before successfully commanding Kilo Force, a counter-insurgency formation in J&K. “But the promotion board was repeatedly postponed until a new policy was illegitimately introduced, in which my decorations counted for nothing.”
The judgment concurs that the new promotion policy, which Army HQ calls the “revised Quantified Model”, should not have been applied in Chowdhary’s and Goudar’s promotion board. While endorsing the new model on December 23, 2010, the MoD ordered it should be implemented only from April 1, 2011. Ignoring that order, Army HQ promulgated the new policy on January 4, 2011, and held the promotion board just three days later, ie. on January 7, 2011. On January 6, 2011, a day before the promotion board, the MoD again wrote to the Army HQ that the new model was to be implemented only after April 1, 2011. Army HQ ignored that reminder, too.
The board rejected Chowdhary and Goudar for promotion, since their decorations for distinguished service no longer counted. And the MoD, knowing that its own orders had been violated, meekly ratified the board results, noting: “The Promotion Boards for Major Generals and Lt Generals are presided over by the Chief of Army Staff and has senior commanders of the Army as its members. It would be extremely detrimental to the discipline of the armed forces and the credibility of the system if the government cancels the entire proceedings of the Selection Boards comprising the top most generals of the Indian Army.”
The MoD allowed the flawed board results, even though the defence secretary noted on file that “there is a general disquiet in the environment at the delayed holding of the Promotion Boards and in making deviations from the extant policy which is reflected in the representations and RTI applications received in the ministry in this regard.”
“It is obvious that the defence secretary was more influenced by the credibility of the Promotion Board being adversely affected and not by the merits of the matter. He forgot that to commit an error is to do no wrong, but to perpetuate an error is to do a wrong,” said the Delhi High Court in its judgment.
Jyoti Singh, the lawyer for Chowdhury and Goudar, says: “We are looking forward to the quick holding of a fresh promotion board, in which my clients are well-placed to be approved.”
But Major General VSS Goudar is bitter about having to wage a long court battle for a legitimate promotion. “What is the charm in now being approved for promotion to lieutenant general? Promotion is not about monetary benefits, but about the pride of one’s achievements being recognised. One should not have to go to court for that.”
There are a growing number of disputes stemming from the Army HQ’s frequent changes of promotion policy, which successive Army chiefs modify according to their own perceptions. This includes an impending legal challenge from a senior lieutenant general, which, if upheld, could see him as the next Army chief.
In a stinging rebuke to the army’s shambolic promotion policy, an unprecedented Delhi High Court judgment on Monday has overturned an entire promotion board, in which major generals from the 1975 batch were evaluated for promotion to lieutenant general. The court also upbraided the Defence Ministry (MoD) for endorsing promotions that it well knew were procedurally flawed.
Now the army faces the humiliating prospect of bringing back two officers from retirement if, as is likely, the fresh board finds them fit for promotion. The new board, which must select lieutenant generals based on a different set of criteria, might have to reject some officers who have already picked up lieutenant general’s rank, based on the impugned board. This could trigger fresh litigation.