Promotion row – SC raps Army for ‘misinterpretation’ of order
The Supreme Court on Wednesday found fault with the execution of its verdict by the Army in which it had asked the Centre to create 141 additional vacancies in the rank of Colonel to promote officers of ‘Combat Support’ streams who had joined the force between 1992 to 1997.
Observing that the Centre had “misinterpreted” its verdict, a bench comprising Chief Justice TS Thakur and A M Khanwilkar said, “the spirit of judgement cannot be defeated …You (Centre) tell us who are the persons responsible for misinterpreting the judgement. We will hold them guilty.” The court, on February 15, this year had agreed to the plea of officers of ‘Combat Support’ corps like Engineering, signal and Medical that their counterparts in Infantry and Artillery were getting undue favour in promotions and asked the Centre to create 141 additional posts to be filled up by officers of support corps who had joined the force between 1992 and 1997.
The Centre, which created 141 posts in pursuance of the verdict, however allegedly considered the officers for promotion who had joined it in 1998 as well. Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for aggrieved officers, said that 16 officers of 1998 batch also got the promotion and consequently, injustice was done to those who had joined during 1992-97. “You have created the posts, allocated them for promotion, but misinterpreted it while promoting the officers,” the bench said.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Maninder Singh, appearing for the Centre, initially tried to convince the court that the order has been implemented in letter and spirit. However, later the ASG agreed to the court’s direction that the 1998 batch officers cannot be promoted in the 141 posts created in pursuance of the verdict. The court then disposed of the fresh plea seeking contempt action against persons including the Chief Of Army Staff and the Military Secretary for not implementing the verdict in entirety.
Earlier, the court had upheld the 2009 ‘command exit promotion’ policy of the Indian Army and had asked the Centre to create 141 additional vacancies to the rank of Colonel to promote officers of ‘Combat Support’ streams. The bench, in its verdict, had “partly allowed” the appeals of the Defence Ministry against the March 2015 order of Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) quashing the Centre’s 2009 ‘command exit promotion’ policy on the ground that it violated Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.
The AFT had quashed the policy on grounds, including that officers of Infantry and Artilery were getting undue favour in promotions over officers of ‘Combat Support’ corps such as Engineering and Medical. The bench, in its verdict had agreed with the contention that the officers of arms support corps have been “unfairly” denied their dues in promotions. Post-Kargil conflict in 1999, the Government had constituted the Kargil Review Committee and then the A V Singh Committee to explore ways to enhance operational preparedness of the Indian Army.
Earlier, the Centre had told the bench that government was ready to create 141 additional vacancies of Army officers of the rank of Colonel and above and they would be made available to officers over a period of time. The Centre had supported the “command exit promotion” policy saying, army officers of certain branches were given “combat edge” in promotions and it has never been disputed.The government had in 2001 asked the Chief of Army Staff to refer to the recommendations of AV Singh Committee (AVSC) on restructuring of the officer cadre of the Army. The AVSC report was aimed at reducing the age of battalion commanders.
AS carried in DNA on 15.07.16