New Delhi, Sep 17 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Indian army to spell out what was its approach and policy on batch parity in the promotion of commissioned officers in different wings – combat, support and services.
A bench of Justice T.S.Thakur and Justice Kurian Joseph, while asking a response from the army on the question of batch parity as a principle of equal opportunity, also sought the factual position to support the government position.
The court order came as lawyer Meenakshi Lekhi appearing for the officers – both retired and serving- who have challenged the 2009 “command and exit” policy contended that it was heavily weighed against them and in favour of infantry thereby resulting in stagnation.
She said that the “command and exit” was discriminatory and violative of their right to equality guaranteed under the constitution’s article 14.
The court sought response from the army, as Lekhi contended that in response to a RTI query, the government has said it has abandoned the policy that an infantry officer for consideration for promotion to the rank of colonel would of one year junior in batch to those officers belonging to support wing and two year junior in batch to those belonging to services. This is also called “0,1,2” policy.
Lekhi told the court that in the “charade” of A.V.Singh Committee report, the army was trying to “surreptitiously” bring back “0,1,2” policy which was given-up in 2002.
However, this position of Lekhi was contested by Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh appearing for army who said that “0, 1, 2” policy was in operation since inception and was never given up and cited a submission by the government in support.
He told the court that in the National Defence Academy itself, in the course of their commissioning, the army officer knows the ladder of their promotion within their own stream and vis-A-vis other streams including infantry.
Earlier in her arguments, Lekhi buttressing her point that “command and exit” policy was heavily leaned in favour of infantary told the court that in recent promotion of 16 lt. generals, 14 of them are from infantry, one from armoured and one from air defence – all part of combat wing of the army.
The bone of contention is government policy of 2009 which earmarked more posts of colonel for the combat wings – infantry, mechanised infantry, armoured corps, artillery, air defence artillery, engineers and signals – so that they may have a commanding officer at the age of 37 years and exiting after 2-1/2 year tenure with no repeat appointment.
Under this policy, 1484 posts of colonel were created – 750 in 2004 – which according to government were erroneously distributed by the army headquarter across the army on pro-rate basis. However, in 2008, 734 posts of colonel under the “command and exit” policy were earmarked exclusively for the combat wings.
The court is hearing the central government’s plea challenging the Armed Forces Tribunal’s March 2, order by which it had quashed January 21, 2009 policy which weighed in the favour of infantry, mechanised infantry and the armoured corp and others in combat area saying that it was violative of article 14.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.