The Supreme Court on 15 February 2016 upheld the Union Government’s Command Exit Model (CEM) of preferential promotion. The 2009 CEM aimed at lowering the age of battalion and brigade commanders as well as improvement in career aspirations of military officers.
While upholding the CEM, the apex court bench of Chief Justice TS Thakur and Kurian Joseph directed the Union Government to create 141 additional posts of colonel for combat support stream to accommodate officers who are eligible for promotions.
However, the SC bench turned down the plea to extend the benefit to Army Service Corps.
The bench further said that there is nothing perverse, unreasonable or unfair about the CEM, which is laudable and intended to make Army more efficient and better equipped for combat situations.
The bench also said that there is no reason for any argument just on the basis of legitimate expectation. Thus, it does not violate any right, much less any fundamental right.
AFT’s March 2015 Order
The bench gave the judgment while hearing an appeal filed by the Union Government against the Armed Forces Tribunal’s (AFT) 2 March 2015 order that quashed its 20 January 2009 promotion policy circular.
AFT in its March 2015 order, held that the 2009 promotion policy for colonels (or CEM) was discriminatory as it violated the Article 14 of the Constitution and was skewed in favour of infantry and artillery officers as compared to other arms and services.
What is the case?
The case emanates from the recommendations of the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC) that was constituted in 2001 and submitted its report in 2004. On the basis of AVSC recommendations, in the first phase 750 vacancies for colonels were distributed from 2005 to 2008 among the different arms on "pro rata basis" of their strength.
However, the remaining 734 vacancies in 2009 were distributed under the new CEM policy, ushered in by the Army HQ without clearance from the government, and led the infantry to corner 441 and artillery 186 of them.
Since the Army comprises of three streams — Combat Arms, Combat Support Arms and Services – but non-creation of additional posts for the Services led to challenging of CEM policy by 30 officers in the AFT.
Although later in 2015, AFT’s March 2015 order was stayed by the Supreme Court on an appeal by the Union Government.
Ajai Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC)
On the basis of the Kargil Review Committee report that was constituted under the chairmanship of K Subrahmanyam in 2000, a panel headed by former Defence Secretary Ajai Vikram Singh was set up in 2001.
It was set up to look into the issue of army promotion policy with two main objectives: reduction in age of battalion and brigade commanders as well as improvement in career aspirations of military officers.
The AVSC recommended the following:
• Short-term deputation to other forces be allowed, and termed it as the “peel off” factor to mitigate stagnation at the middle level.
• A colonel should be of the age 36 to 37 years, while brigadiers should be 44 to 45 years old.
• It recommended a ‘command-and-exit’ policy by which colonels would serve as battalion commanders for two to three years and exit to a non-command post by the time they reach the age of 40.
• To bring down the age to 37 years, it had recommended creation of additional posts for colonels.
• It found that the Indian Army is aged as compared to armies of Israel, US, Russia and Pakistan.
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