Opaque MoD promotion policy creates legal challenge for next army chief - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 15 April 2014

Opaque MoD promotion policy creates legal challenge for next army chief

Lt Gen Ravi Dastane is the latest in a seemingly unending line of senior officers  going to court over promotions denied

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Apr 14

With India on track to get a new government next month, the army --- arguably the country’s most admired institution --- is mired in embarrassing uncertainty about who will succeed General Bikram Singh as army chief on July 31, 2014.

The last succession, when Gen VK Singh handed over command to Gen Bikram Singh on May 31, 2012, was mired in controversy and lawsuits. This time again the Supreme Court is hearing a petition by a senior officer, Lieutenant General Ravi Dastane, who cites an array of policy violations to allege that the army and ministry of defence (MoD) have denied him the right to be an army commander. If the apex court rules in his favour, Dastane will be in consideration to be the next army chief. He will be the senior-most army commander, although Lt Gen Dalbir Singh will still be the senior-most lieutenant general.
At fault is the army’s and MoD’s failure to create transparent promotion policies for its top-most appointments. The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) --- the MoD’s departmental judicial tribunal --- in rejecting Dastane’s petition last September, embarrassingly noted that the absence of a clear promotion policy was repeatedly bringing aggrieved officers to court.

Dastane has pleaded before the Supreme Court that the army and MoD have reduced the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) --- the final authority on appointing top commanders --- to a rubber stamp, by placing before it a single name for each appointment. This violates an earlier Supreme Court judgment which had ruled in 2000 (Union of India versus Lt Gen Rajendra Singh Kadyan) that appointments should be on merit as well as eligibility, with the ACC choosing between at least two candidates for each appointment, rather than merely rubber-stamping the appointment of the senior-most eligible candidate.

The army and MoD told the AFT that they internally evaluated seven eligible officers who senior enough to be considered. The AFT judgment notes that “there was no Selection Committee constituted”, but the army chief and the MoD zeroed in on two candidates for two posts and sent the names to the ACC. The AFT concludes that the principle of merit was thus kept in mind.

Dastane is challenging this conclusion. In addition, he contends that the army illegally undermined the “discipline and vigilance ban” (DV ban) policy. His petition argues that, on May 31, 2012 --- the day army chief, General VK Singh, and western army commander, Lt Gen Shankar Ghosh, retired --- Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra and Dastane himself, the two senior-most lieutenant generals eligible to become army commanders, should have been recommended to fill their vacancies the same day. Lt Gen Dalbir Singh, while senior to both, was ineligible, having received a “show cause notice” from the army chief, General VK Singh, for a rogue intelligence operation. Dalbir, therefore, was under a DV Ban.

Inexplicably, the MoD moved to elevate only Chachra to army commander. It left the second vacancy unfilled, pending a decision on Dalbir’s DV Ban. The new chief, General Bikram Singh, quickly lifted the ban on June 8 and Dalbir was appointed army commander on June 15.

Dastane contends that this effectively “reserved” a vacancy for Dalbir Singh for 15 days, until his DV ban could be lifted. The AFT has rejected that contention, but the Supreme Court will examine it afresh.

The backdrop to this was bitter internal feuding between Gen VK Singh on the one hand; and his successor, Gen Bikram Singh and Lt Gen Dalbir Singh on the other. With Gen VK Singh trying to amend his date of birth and gain an additional year in office, he was targeting Bikram and Dalbir as beneficiaries of his early departure.

An army commander is a senior lieutenant general, appointed to head one of the army’s six geographical commands --- the western, northern, central, eastern, southern and southwestern commands. A seventh “functional command” is the Shimla-based Army Training Command (ARTRAC). In addition, army generals take turns, alternating with their navy and air force counterparts, to command the tri-service Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) in Port Blair.

To be appointed army commander, a lieutenant general should have successfully commanded one of the army’s fourteen corps, and also have two years of service left before retirement at the age of 60. The ACC selects army commanders from a list of eligible names forwarded by army headquarters (AHQ), through the MoD. 


  1. does this stink of a communal flavour?

  2. All, promotions should be based on achievements and merit, not seniority. For the top few positions, a commission (a mix of internal and independent members) should select a few potentials for each level (assuming that we cannot allow them to make the final selection) and then leave it up to who every is in charge (MOD I guess) to make the final pick from that list.

  3. No promotion, no respect, no security of life. Its better not to join the defence forces.

  4. Ajai technically I feel that Lt Gen Ravi Dastane should have been appointed as the Army Cdr since at that point in time when there were two vacancies falling due, he was one of the eligible candidates to become the Army Cdr. I say more so with conviction since army is very finicky when it comes to promotion boards where officers miss their next rank by fractions and decimals in the numerical system of assessment. No one gives any consideration to any one at that time, then why this deviation from the laid down policy in this case.

    You cannot possibly keep a seat reserved for a few days in order to accommodate anyone else. On the day of occurrence of a vacancy there was a question mark on the technical validity of one of the contenders hence he should not have been considered.

    However if a deviation from the norm had to be done, I am sure there would have been a reason good enough, but that reason should have been made transparent to everyone.

  5. It is a matter of concern that one of the largest Armies in the world is subjected to controversies in matters of promotions among other issues. It appears that there is a flaw in the selection of General officers in the first place which is the root cause of such a type of problem. There must be a review of the procedures. Professional competence must take precedence over every other criteria. Who better to decide on the professional competence other than the Army itself.

  6. Col Prabir Sengupta, VSM17 April 2014 at 01:30

    you know how things work in the uniform; at times its really confounding that the pyramid is so steep and meritorious officers left by the wayside.
    Even the recommending of two names is NOT the way forward.

  7. It is surprising that the Generals want seniority basis but for the junior ranks like Col, Brigadier they want merit based promotions. What kind of a stupid armed forces policy is this. That the top brass selection will not be on merit but on seniority. And who is this who checks merit? AK - my goodness.

  8. What merit...dasta was kapur tailor's stooge...

  9. RaHaul Gwandhai18 April 2014 at 12:13

    The army's promotion policy is nonsense.it should be torn and thrown into the dustbin.

  10. 1. Depends on which side of the divide you are on.
    * Technically keeping the post vacant for 15 days was unfair to Gen Dastane but if it was not, would it not have been unfair to Gen Dalbir who is senior of the two.
    * Who is to say whether the DV ban was justified or was the lifting of DV ban more justifiable.
    * Which one was malafide; placing Gen Suhag under DV ban or removing the ban.
    2. Who can argue with merit? That's hardly the issue. The issue according to me is,"Who'll decide whether 'A' or 'B' is more meritorious?" If MOD has to decide on that,which it will, merit can be readily used as a handle to prefer "Convenient" candidates. Not a very promising prospect.
    3. In my opinion it's best to go on with the current system, till a foolproof mechanism of selection is put in place.

  11. Yes, this is a hot issue on St Antony's table.He could either leave it to the incoming government/defence minister to shovel the shit or as some reports in this mornings TOI/HT seem to suggest that the Govt may be considering announcing the new COAS well before the usual 2 month period before the incumbent COAS retires.

    This last option has support in the upper echelons of the MOD as the thinking is that if the new COAS appt is announced before Lt Gen Dastane's case is decided by the Supreme Court,then so much less shit flying around to deal with. The worst case scenario for the MOD is for the Supreme Court to give a verdict in the Generals favour !!! So the MOD babus wanna avoid this.

    Apart from timing ,the other issue which has got the army brass highly agitated and in a major state of discomfiture is the supersession of Vadm Sinha and the doomsday scenario of the current/next govt doing the same with the Army by going for a deep draw based on merit from the lineup of Army Commanders.With Lt Gen Chacchra due to retire soon,the option pallette has Lt Gens Madhok,Campose, Bakshi, Sahni and Rai in the line up.

    Personally I doubt the current govt would rock the boat and say appoint Lt Gen Ashok Singh who is next in line after the VCOAS .His being Gen VK's sambandhi would be a red rag to the current govt.

    But whether they would announce the name well before the traditional 2 month period is something I look forward to reading your views on.

  12. Looks like army had become a pension fund for anks above brigadier. Time for a more transparent policy. How many of these generals will be able to withstand a conflict ? Maybe kargil lessons were learnt by MOD & army HQ

  13. Same Gen officer stripped away the Flag Staff houses at 18 div & 14 Corps and nothing was left there .No curtains,Acs,linen & cutlery.thank God he is not selected for Army Cdr


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