The following appeared as an OPed in ‘The Tribune’ on 26 June 2012:-
PERSONNEL POLICIES : ARMY SHOOTS ITSELF IN THE FOOT
Military turning against the military: In personnel policies, the Army is fast becoming its own greatest enemy
Major Navdeep Singh
Humans are alike. Wearing a uniform may suppress, but not fully insulate them from corruption, greed, power-play et al, vices inherent to human race. But besides grit and courage, what sets military personnel apart from the others is the sharp ability to self-destruct and to invent self-defeatist masterstrokes as far as welfare, manpower and personnel policies are concerned.
Whichever side one may be, what the Army Chief’s age row has brought fore is that there is a belief doing the rounds, factual or fictional, that meticulous surgically incisive processes are constantly at play where careers of those who may pose a future threat are played with crudely and ruthlessly and all this happens behind closed doors under a cloak of secrecy marked ‘national security’ which is not actually in consonance with the age of transparency we live in. The lucky few in key appointments have their way and others can only pull their hair in despair. The number of cases pending before Benches of the Armed Forces Tribunal and other Courts, and the kind of strictures passed on such matters bear testimony to the chaos at work. It is yet another matter that even in well-rounded verdicts, the system, out of egotism, tries its best to wear out its own personnel by litigating till the highest court.
While military officers are quick to point fingers at the bureaucrat, it is their own arbitrary and parochial attitude and policies, without any basic understanding or training for administration, that are to be blamed. In the bargain, the military becomes the military’s own greatest enemy.
The examples are many. Recently the Supreme Court reportedly reprimanded the Army for creating artificial hurdles for its own officers when an appeal was filed against a lady officer of the JAG whose case had been allowed by the AFT granting her promotions and permanent commission. Till date, the Army, based on an internal artificial interpretation by the MS Branch, is promoting Short Service Officers commissioned prior to 2006 as Captains in 9 years of service while those commissioned after 2006 are being promoted to the same rank in 2 years. The impediment was not created by with the Ministry of Defence, but by the Army. When the Military’s medical establishment was directed by Courts to grant medical facilities to its elderly retired Emergency Commissioned Officers based on an already existing Government Order, the Army itself was quick to challenge it before the Supreme Court. Imagine, the Army approaching the Supreme Court with a Prayer that the same Army may be directed to withdraw medical facilities from its own officers, some of them in their 80s.
When the Navy and Air Force vouched for implementation of Non-Functional Upgradation for the defence services, as already applicable to civil services, which guarantees the pay of a Lt Gen in a time-bound manner to superseded officers, the Army was the first to oppose putting across the banal argument that if implemented there would be ‘no charm for higher ranks’. When all Doctors of the Central Government were granted a ‘Dynamic Assured Progression Scheme’, the Army itself tooth and nail opposed its implementation for its own doctors on the pretext that doctors would then start getting higher salaries than other officers. While the civilian establishment is constantly blamed for degradation of status of military officers, the Army, in the Military Engineering Services (MES) itself places senior promotee military officers of the rank of Major and lady officers of similar rank as Assistant Garrison Engineers, an appointment tenable by Subedar-equivalent civilian officers, while directly commissioned officers of the rank of Major with much lesser length of service are posted on higher appointments such as Garrison Engineers, all again based on an artificial, faulty and forced interpretation of existing rules.
Recently, based on a decision taken by the PM, young army officers, both Permanent and Short Service Commissioned, upto 35 years of age with 5 years of service and in fit medical category, were sought for lateral induction into the Indian Police Service through a statutory gazette notification. But rather than moving with the times, the Army HQ, based on an outdated policy promulgated in 1987, issued a circular pointing out that only those Permanent Commissioned Officers would be permitted to apply for the IPS who had only two years of service left (that is, who were 50 years old), or who were in low medical category, or who had completed 18 years of service but had not passed their promotion exams. Needless to say, it’s a no-brainer that all such categories ‘allowed’ by the Army HQ were actually ineligible to be inducted into the IPS as per the gazette notification.
Whenever there is a welfare oriented proposal or proactive personnel policy under consideration of the Government which elements in the bureaucracy would not like to see implemented, they simply throw it in the court of the defence services for a consultative process for they know that first the Army, Navy and the Air Force would start struggling between themselves, and then the fight would shift inter-se between the fighting Arms, then it would be fighting arms vs support arms and finally arms vs services. The end product would be zilch resulting in sniggers from the ringside. So where does the fault lie? Is it because of the stiff competition and ACR oriented ‘smile up – kick down’ culture or is it because of plain lack of understanding of finer aspects of personnel management and lack of administrative acumen or downright foolhardiness? The answer is hard to find. It seems that in a nation with the psyche of public servants deriving power by imposing obstacles, red-tape and impediments in the ordinary life of a common citizen, officers holding key appointments in the military feel powerless when they compare themselves with their civilian counterparts. Hence the only way to feel powerful is by posing hindrances in areas of policy where the pen can be used as an authoritative instrument of damage, and that damage unfortunately is restricted to within the uniformed services. As a sequel, creation of restrictive clauses and provisos becomes a tool of ego empowerment through which the policy writer feels potent. Liberal construal is abandoned for sadism and a sub-culture emerges where cribbing is rampant and peer happiness is not tolerated.
The Army has to wake up and smell the coffee. The obstructive, inward-looking conservative approach has to go, times are such. Camaraderie has been the hallmark of defence services but the same is not just meant for the battle field but for normal day to day life too which actually and practically affects personnel and their families. A recent positive example would be the strong efforts of the Army’s Personnel Services Directorate in reducing litigation and convincing the Defence Ministry to withdraw appeals filed against its disabled soldiers bringing succour and kudos to the organisation. The positivity must spread and must spread fast to other spheres, otherwise the self-inflicted injury to the heretofore seemingly strong foundation would make the organisation a laughing stock leading to a spectacular derailment of the only institution every Indian has been unconditionally proud of.
The writer is a practicing lawyer of the High Court and former President of the AFT Bar Association.