Thursday, 16 April 2015

Army divided against army; BJP against BJP: Supreme Court will hear controversial army promotion case on 22nd


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Apr 15

The Supreme Court today put off by a week its hearing of a landmark case on an issue so contentious that it has divided the army right down the middle; and even senior echelons of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

At stake here is the principle for promoting officers to higher rank. The army currently favours the infantry and artillery, saying these arms face harsher service conditions and need younger commanders. Challenging this in what is now a keenly watched cause celebre are 191 serving officers who argue the army is an integrated whole and promotion should be equitable.

The BJP’s national spokesperson, Meenakshi Lekhi, a prominent Supreme Court lawyer, is spearheading the case against her own party’s government. Lekhi has routed the government in the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) on March 30. She could also win in the Supreme Court, which will hear the case on April 22.

Fighting alongside Lekhi is legal eagle Harish Salve, who is working free of cost.

Lekhi says this case is important enough for her to confront her own party’s government. “At stake here is the cohesiveness and unity of the entire officer corps. The army has to remain united. Favouring one or two arms divides the army and weakens India’s military capability”, she told Business Standard

The disagreement is over distribution of vacancies for four senior ranks --- colonel, brigadier, major general and lieutenant general. Before 2009, vacancies were equitably divided on a “pro rata” basis --- i.e. in proportion to their numbers --- between the arms and services that made up the army. These include “combat arms”, i.e. armoured corps, infantry and mechanised infantry; “combat support arms”, i.e. artillery, engineers and signals; and finally “services”, which discharge logistic functions like repair and supply.

The AFT notes this balance was upset in 2009, when new “discriminatory” promotion rules handed out most vacancies to the two biggest arms --- infantry and artillery. Suddenly, with these additional vacancies, 60 per cent of infantry and artillery lieutenant colonels found themselves getting promoted to colonel. Meanwhile other branches had approval ratings as low as 26 per cent.

This injustice was extended to the higher ranks of brigadier and general, where the vacancies for each branch correspond to the number of colonels it has.

The AFT ruled that this violated “the fundamental right of equality of opportunity”, and ordered the army to redistribute vacancies equitably and reconvene all promotion boards to the rank of colonel held since 2008.

For the army, re-holding these promotion boards is a major challenge. “This is like ordering the replay of all cricket series held in the last five years, including the World Cup, after discovering an earlier flaw in the rules”, laments a general.

Even so, the Supreme Court wants an early decision. On Wednesday, it overruled the army’s request for three weeks to prepare its case, allowing only one week, given that a promotion board is scheduled for 28th.

The apex Court has ordered the army to place promotion boards on hold until the matter is heard on 22nd.

The instrument for allocating extra vacancies to the infantry and artillery was the so-called Ajai Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC), chaired by a well-respected defence secretary, which was mandated in 2001 to create a younger army. One AVSC recommendation was to promote officers faster by creating more vacancies --- 1484 additional colonels; 222 more brigadiers; 75 new major generals and 20 additional lieutenant generals.

These additional vacancies were to be created in two tranches. In December 2004, the first 750 colonel vacancies were equitably distributed, based on each branch’s officer strength.  In November 2008, as the AFT notes, the remaining 734 vacancies were given mainly to the infantry (441) and artillery (186). The other eight arms/services got just 59 vacancies between them, with 48 discretionary vacancies retained by army headquarters.

The AFT judgment termed this “a malicious act of reverse engineering to justify discrimination in allotment of vacancies”.

Whilst the impugned policy was being formulated (2001-2009) all army chiefs and key promotion policymakers were from either the infantry or artillery.

These generals suggested the AVSC had recommended additional vacancies to the infantry and artillery in order to bring younger officers in command.

In fact, former defence secretary Ajai Vikram Singh has clarified to Business Standard: “There was no talk of having any special provision for the infantry or artillery.” 

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

When will our generals show some maturity?
Why are they not being brought to book? The AFT has clearly established malicious intent.They have driven a wedge in the Army and done disservice to the organisation. High treason it is. Pakistan and China have much to thank them for.

Anonymous said...

Ajay,
You know where will this stop ?

What will be the result ? Who will destroy whom ?

This is no way to browbeat the majority....
Vast numbers of deserving souls in the Army are casualties to this mud corps behaviour ...for sure..

Thank me for an honest feedback or your such posts are not even worth a look at

Unknown said...

There is no place for lamentation for those with malafide intent.. Spare the pity. 191 go to court is a case of enteric fever.Org requires treatment.

Satpathy said...

Col. Shukla, I have been an ardent follower of your blog over several years. While I did not agree with your position on many issues, you raised many important issues - some strategic, some tactical that made sense.

However, regrettably I had a feeling that for some reason you were beginning to lose objectivity in your discourse on defense matters and on matters of National security. My feeling were further validated by a show I watched you as a panelist on NDTV anchored by Vikram Chandra to discuss the pros and cons of the recent Rafale deal. I was aghast at your overtly political disposition during the show. Many here have accused you of being a Congress man or at least someone who is sympathetic towards the UPA govt. I never believed that until I saw and heard it myself. You, my friend have begun to sound like a Congress party mouthpiece ! It makes me sad that we have lost yet another neutral voice in this country when it comes to matter of National security and defence.

All the best !

Subramanyam V A said...

It is quite correct to say that we need younger battalion (and equivalents) commanders. In fact the entire rank structure needs a complete overhaul. We are continuing to follow the pattern started by the British during World War I. Since then we are not a colonial army but of an independent emerging super power. Technology and society have altered our way of living. It is high time that a review be done de novo. And of course army - like a human being needs every limb - and needs every arm and service and thus ranks should be equitably distributed.

Subramanyam V A said...

It is quite correct to say that we need younger battalion (and equivalents) commanders. In fact the entire rank structure needs a complete overhaul. We are continuing to follow the pattern started by the British during World War I. Since then we are not a colonial army but of an independent emerging super power. Technology and society have altered our way of living. It is high time that a review be done de novo. And of course army - like a human being needs every limb - and needs every arm and service and thus ranks should be equitably distributed.

Anonymous said...

I agree !They have insulted the high standards of the forces and should be brought to book ruthlessly!In fact they should be cashiered after recalling from retirement!

Anonymous said...

I agree he is more interested in certain benefits from certain sources!It is quite evident in his statements!

RAMA said...

Atrocious is word which comes first to my mind.
How an earth does this justify the "Young Army " concept.
Don't we have young officers in other branches? If so , what is the reason ? Are they not selected at similar age group on entry? If so than why this discrimination at this stage?