The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to furnish details of casualties suffered by the Indian Army in the three wars fought by it, with a break-up of the percentage of losses suffered by the infantry and other services.
The bench of Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice Kurian Joseph sought the details during the hearing of a petition by the Centre challenging the Armed Forces Tribunal’s March 2, 2015, order quashing the January 21, 2009, ‘Command and Exit’ policy.
Quashing the January 2009 policy, the AFT by its March 2, 2015, order held that the policy weighed in favour of the infantry, mechanised infantry and the armoured corps and others in combat area saying it was violative of article 14 (Equality before law) of the Constitution.
Besides seeking details of the casualties, the court also sought information whether any officer who approached the AFT and was a respondent before it had ever in the course of his/her career opted for infantry and if so what happened to the request.
The court also asked the Centre to place before it a “responsible note” on the government policy on batch seniority and parity between the combatant and non-combatant arms of the army.
Counsel Salman Khurshid, appearing for some of the officers complaining about discrimination meted out to them under the ‘command and exit’ policy, told the court that the gap in the promotion of infantry officers and officers of other wings, that used to be a year or a year-and-a-half, has not increased to four years.
Contesting the rationale of the 2009 policy that weighed heavily in favour of infantry officers, Khurshid said the youthful profile of the army had to be seen in its entirety and not by differentiating them as combatant and non-combatant.
He told the court that there was no rationale in the ‘command and exit’ policy sought to be enforced by the government, saying it differentiated not only between combatant and non-combatant but even within combatants with the infantry walking away with the lion’s share.
He said other combatant wing officers from the armoured corps, mechanised corps and army air defence were not getting a fair share of colonels’ posts for quick promotion as was being canvassed by the government.
The bone of contention is the government policy of 2009 which earmarked more posts of colonel for the armed wings of the army — 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 a two-and-a-half-year tenure with no repeat appointment.
Under this policy, 1,484 posts of colonel were created — 750 in 2004 — which according to the government were erroneously distributed by the army headquarters across the army on pro-rata basis.
However, in 2008, 734 posts of colonel under the ‘command and exit’ policy were earmarked exclusively for the armed wings of the army.
The AFT by its order had said that the 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.
The hearing will continue on October 13.