NEW DELHI:At a time when the Indian Army is fighting a court battle over its promotion policy, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has saved himself and his ministry from a major embarrassment by nipping in the bud a discontent brewing among the 50 top Indian Coast Guard officers.
Upset at not getting their dues and tired of being ignored for the past six years, these officers were all set to take the legal recourse to address their grievances. The government is already fighting a case defending the Army’s “command and exit” promotion policy of 2009, which has widened the rift within the service as it is skewed in favour of officers from infantry and artillery. In March this year, the Armed Forces Tribunal quashed the 2009 policy, but the Centre has taken the matter to the Supreme Court, arguing that this policy is the only way to ensure a younger force. The government said the age profile of unit commanders in Pakistan and China was 35 and 40 years, respectively, and thus, that of Indian battalion commanders also needed to be brought down.
With regard to the Indian Coast Guard promotion policy, it all started in 2008. The UPA government in its sixth pay commission recommendations approved a Modified Assured Career Progression Scheme (MACPS) for the Indian Coast Guard officers. However, due to a technical flaw in the order, it could not be implemented by the Coast Guard Headquarters.
Under the new MACPS scheme, around 50 officers of the Indian Coast Guard, who joined service by 1990 and were subsequently promoted to the rank of Commandant by 2002, were to be the beneficiaries. So a group of 15 officers made several representations before their respective Zone headquarters and subsequently to the Coast Guard headquarters in New Delhi.
Finally, in September 2013, the Coast Guard headquarters turned down the petition. The officers then wrote to the then defence minister A K Antony. Antony’s office sat on their representation and did not take any remedial measures.
The Coast Guard officers in February this year once again approached the office of the Defence minister. Finally, losing patience they resorted to file RTI and sought response from the ministry over their petition.
“We had no other option but to take legal recourse after being unheard for such a long period. But now the minister has intervened and accepted to give our dues,” said one of the petitioners, on the condition of anonymity.
Parrikar anticipated the mood of the officers and sought a detailed report from the Coast Guard headquarters on the matter. After extensive briefing and taking legal opinion, on 27 April, he issued an order for implementation of the MACP scheme.
Ever since he took charge, Parrikar has been making efforts to reduce the legal cases pertaining to Armed Forces. He believes “our soldiers should not spend time fighting legal battles in court. Instead they should be on the border”. A top defence ministry official said this was a major decision by the minister, especially at a time, when approximately 15,000 cases related to Armed Forces are pending in various courts and Armed Forces Tribunals across the country.
Moreover, already the Army’s controversial “command and exit policy”, faces the threat of being scrapped. The Apex Court took an adverse stand on it after the defence ministry failed to produce the policy acceptance letter despite repeated requests.
The Army’s 2009 promotion policy was based the recommendation of the committee headed by former defence secretary Ajay Vikram Singh. The panel looked into lowering the age profile of commanding officers after the 1999 Kargil war. The policy has created a disproportionate amount of new ranks for the infantry and artillery against other branches such as the armoured corps, signals, engineering and mechanised infantry.
The Story So Far
Indian Coast Guard:
Over 50 Coast Guard officers have been fighting for implementation of a new promotion policy since 2009. They made several representations and petitions but to no avail. Due to technical reasons, the policy could not be implemented. A group of 15 senior officers then made representations against the Coast Guard’s decision. Finally on April 27, after a fight of over six years, Parrikar issued instructions to implement the promotion scheme. The new policy allows 3 financial upgradation counted from the direct entry grade on completion of 10, 20 and 30 years of service. Financial upgradation under the scheme will be admissible whenever an officer has spent 10 years of continuous service.
The Indian Army:
The Army’s controversial “command and exit policy” of 2009 was quashed by the Armed Forces Tribunal as it was highly skewed in favour of officers from infantry and artillery, as compared to other branches of the Army. The government moved the Supreme Court in April against the AFT ruling.