NEW DELHI: Simmering discontent in the Army is now turning into a legal battle. Over 100 serving officers have moved the Supreme Court against the Army Headquarters deploying them in operations but denying them benefits. These officers have been named ‘non-combatants’ in the Army’s order.Army Headquarters in its submission before the apex court last year had called the services cadre—which comprises over 20 per cent of the Army—‘non-operational’.
Miffed over the stand, several service cadre officers had expressed their reluctance to go on operational postings, including forward and counter-insurgency areas. The cadre has nearly 10,000 officers in its strength of 2.6 lakh personnel. Army Service Corps (ASC) is an arm of the Indian Army that handles its logistic support function.
Now over 100 servicing officers between the rank of Captain and Brigadiers, including some gallantry awardees have filed a petition by stating that they have been falsely declared ‘non-operational’.
Petitioners stated that legally they are not supposed to wield arms as non-combatants, yet they are being used in operations. “The Army or the government has no power to declare any part of regular army ‘non-operational’, since the officers of the regular army are operational by statute,” read the petition.
The petition further stated, “The officers belonging to the service cadre do not hold any immunity under the Geneva Convention, as applicable to combatants and if caught on foreign soil, shall be tried not as soldiers but under the criminal law of the country.”
Indian Army comprises 11 streams— Infantry, Armoured Corps, Mechanised Infantry, Artillery, Air Defense, Engineers, Signals, Army Service Corps, Army Ordinance, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and Other Corps including Intelligence, Aviation and other Minor Corps.
Major Satish Dahiya, an officer from Army Service Corps was killed in an operation, in a non-combatant status. He died during operations against terrorists in Kashmir while posted with 30 Rashtriya Rifles unit. Major Dahiya received the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest gallantry award.
The officer mortality rate of Army Service Corps in the most recent war fought at Kargil has been 1.77 per thousand which is more than any other component of the regular army.
These very combat services officers were denied vacancies that were churned out of the Kargil experience.
It all started when the Army’s 2009 promotion policy, which was based on the recommendation of former defence secretary Ajai Vikram Singh Committee, was challenged in the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT).
The combat services officers are a part of the Regular Indian Army which in itself is operational by the enactment.