Army HQ goofed on ‘command and exit’ policy in 2004, court told

New Delhi, Sep 16 (IANS) The government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that 750 additional posts of colonel created in 2004 for army’s combat wing under “command and exit” policy were erroneously distributed across the force on pro-rata basis by the headquarters and instead of reversing it and upsetting the entire scheme, it preferred to take remedial steps.

“Government decided on the command and exit policy and (in the first instance) created 750 additional posts in 2004, but army headquarters distributed it on pro-rata basis across all wings of army. We ought to have intervened but we did not but in the second stage (when another 734 additional posts of colonel were created in 2008), government stepped in to take remedial steps,” Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh told the court.

“You should have objected and stopped it,” a bench of Justice T.S.Thakur and Justice Kurian Joseph told Singh as he sought to defend government inaction, saying that entire thing could not have been reversed as it would have upset everything.

Describing the implementation of policy by the army headquarters as not being in “total conformity” with the government decision, he said: “I could not have reversed the clock. Those who got the promotion had gone further” in hierarchy.

The option before the government was to “go back” (on the way army headquarter had erroneously implemented the policy), or “go forward” or “castigate the army headquarters”, the ASG said, adding that the government chose to set the house in order and tried to “achieve what best could be achieved”.

The government action could not be described being “arbitrary and malafide”, he maintained.

Following “sluggish response” during Kargil war, the Ajay Vikram Singh Committee looked into lowering the age profile of commanding officers in combat units.

The court was told that 1,484 additional posts of colonel that were created following the committee report were to cover infantry, mechanised infantry, armoured corps, artillery, air defence artillery, engineers and signals, with the object of having an officer commanding a combatt unit at the age of 37 and go out after two and half year at the age of 39-1/2 years.

Singh said that prior to this, combat units were commanded by colonels at the age of 41, which was higher than the age of 37 years of the commanding officer in Pakistani and Chinese armies.

Having some reservation about the government policy, the court asked the ASG how it is was decided to have younger profile for combat unit commanders only and not the entire army.

“The objective of youthful war machine was for all, then you also allow in other units,” the court told Singh, adding: “When a war machine works, it does not work in isolation, it works as a cohesive. If you want to have a younger cohesive war machine then it has to be an all-around youthfulness.”

As the hearing would continue on Thursday, the court asked counsel Meenakshi Lekhi who is appearing for the army officers who have challenged the policy to address the court as to how her clients have a footprints in 1,484 addition posts of colonels created for combat units.

The court is hearing the central government’s plea challenging the Armed Forces Tribunal’s March 2 order quashing the January 21, 2009 policy which weighed in the favour of infantry, mechanised infantry, the armoured corps and others combat units, saying that it was violative of the constitution’s article 14.

The tribunal, by its order, had said that government would create supernumerary posts to accommodate Lt Col P.K.Choudhary and other officers who were denied promotion on the basis of quashed policy subject to merit.

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