New Delhi: The government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that Indian army’s response during Kargil war was sluggish as it sought and obtained a stay of the Armed Forces Tribunal’s order quashing the 2009 policy to have a combat unit commanded by a colonel at the age of 37 years.
As a bench of Justice T.S.Thakur, Justice R. Banumathi and Justice Amitava Roy stayed the tribunal’s March 2, 2015 order quashing the 2009 policy under which newly-created 750 posts of colonels were not disbursed across the army on pro rata basis, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the court that the response in Kargil war was “sluggish”.
Telling the court that the policy of giving the command of a combat unit to a colonel at the age of 37 followed an examination of why the army’s response in the conflict was “sluggish”, he said it was found that while an indian army combat unit was being commanded by a colonel aged 41, his counterparts in the Pakistani and Chinese army were aged 37 years.
The AFT order was coming in the way of promotion policy in the army reducing the age of a colonel to 37 years, he said.
The tribunal quashed the January 21, 2009 policy which weighed in favour of infantry, mechanised infantry and armoured corps insofar the 750 newly-created posts of colonels were concerned, saying that it was violative of the constitution’s article 14 (equality before law).
The government move had followed the recommendations of Ajay Vikram Singh Committee, which besides other things, had investigated the army’s “sluggish” response.
The government had created 1,500 additional posts of colonel – 750 in 2004 and another 750 in 2009 – a larger chunk of which was to go to these three arms for a better age profile of the command structure.
Rohatgi said that the 750 posts created in 2004 for improving the age profile of combat units had been mistakenly disbursed across the army on a pro rata basis, but since this did not achieve the desired objective, a pro rata distribution of another 750 posts was not followed in 2009.
Besides improving the age profile, the additional posts of colonel were needed to accommodate these officers after they exited combat command as in the army hierarchy’s pyramid, not everyone could be be promoted to brigadier.
Having some reservations on Rohatgi’s stand, the court wondered how could pro rata disbursal of the posts would not favour combat units as it would be on the basis of their respective strengths and these were in a much larger number.
“You can’t affords to have disgruntled, dissatisfied and frustrated officers in other wings of army,” it said.
Rohatgi however said that if the tribunal’s order was to be implemented then the entire policy will have to be unscrambled.
Appearing for the officers who had approached the tribunal, counsel Meenakshi Lekhi contested Rohatgi’s assertions, saying that A.V. Singh Committee report did not only talk about the combat units but of a larger age profile at brigade level.
Senior counsel Shekhar Naphade, appearing for another set of aggrieved officers, said that 12 Lt.Generals have opposed the policy, but Rohatgi countered that they were out of 84 but had acknowledged policy decisions rested with the government.
The tribunal order said that government would create supernumerary posts to accommodate Lt. Col. P.K.Choudhary and other officers denied promotion on the basis of quashed policy subject to merit.