Soldiers give “best part of their lives” to the country, the Supreme Court observed on Thursday while urging the government to create additional vacancies in the armed forces.
The bench headed by Justice TS Thakur made the remark while reserving its verdict on the appeal of the Defence Ministry against the Armed Forces Tribunal’s decision to quash Army’s ‘command exit promotion’ policy on the ground that it violated Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution. “You see there are large number of vacancies. Give them the additional vacancies. They give best part of their lives to the services,” the bench, also comprising Justice Kurian Joseph, said while wrapping up the hearing.
One of the lawyers, at the fag end of the hearing, also told the court that there are around 10,000 vacancies at senior levels in the Army. Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for the Centre, said the government has agreed 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. Meenakshi Lekhi, appearing for some Army officers, alleged that “infantry has taken over the Army” as the 2009 promotion policy was aimed at providing edge to officers of the Infantry and discriminated against officers belonging to other divisions.
Earlier, the apex court had asked the government to apprise it about the factual position on the issue of “batch parity” in promotion of army officers of the rank of Colonel and above belonging to various branches like the Armoured Corps, Engineering, Infantry and Artillery.
The Centre has supported the Army’s “command exit promotion” policy and had said that army officers of certain branches were given “combat edge” in promotions and it has never been disputed. The bench, during the hearing of the appeal of the Defence Ministry against AFT’s decision, had on March 25 stayed the March 2 decision of AFT to quash Army’s promotion policy.
Some army officers had claimed that the new promotion policy had adversely affected them as it was “arbitrary” and “highly skewed” in favour of Infantry and Artillery, as compared to other branches of the Army.
Earlier, the court had asked the Defence Ministry to file its rejoinder to the response of the officers on whose plea the AFT had passed the order. Several officers including Lt Col P K Choudhary had submitted that all ranks of personnel from Colonel and above would be affected due to the “biased” promotion policy. They said that the 2009 promotion policy had resulted in preferential promotions to officers of select branches of Army and hence should be scrapped.
In its appeal, the government had justified the promotion policy, saying the Army, being the employer, has a right to have its promotion policy and AFT should not have interfered in the “policy decision”. It further said the age profile of unit commanders in Pakistan and Chinese armies was 35 and 40 years respectively and hence the age limit of battalion commanders in Indian Army also needed to be less.
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.