Supreme Court of India upholds Army’s Command Exit policy

NEW DELHI(TH): The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the Centre’s ‘Command Exit’ policy that lowered the age of commanding officers for promotions in the Army.

The policy was based on the recommendation of an expert committee set up immediately after the 1999 Kargil War to enhance operational preparedness and achieve combat peaks. “There is nothing perverse, unreasonable or unfair about the policy that lowers the age of officers serving in Combat Arms and Combat Arms Support by creating additional vacancies to be allotted on Command Exit Model,” a Bench of Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur and Justice Kurian Joseph held in a judgment pronounced on Monday.

It rejected the contentions raised by certain officers that the promotion model denied pro rata distribution of vacancies to the Service stream of the Army and focussed only on Arms and Arms Support.

“We see no reason to allow the argument based on legitimate expectation to unsettle or undo a policy which is otherwise laudable and intended to render the Indian Army more efficient and better equipped for combat situations,” the 58-page judgment said. The judgment ordered the creation of 141 additional posts of Colonel, to be allocated to ‘Combat Support’ stream to accommodate officers who are eligible for promotions.

The SC delivered the verdict on appeals by the Centre challenging the Armed Forces Tribunal’s March 2, 2015 order quashing the government’s January 20, 2009 policy circular.

The court pointed out that commanding officers in Japan, China and Pakistan armies got their promotions at a younger age compared to the Indian Army.

The court said the complaining officers’ legitimate expectation of parity in promotions should bow before the exigencies of a policy accepted by the government in public interest.

Endorsing the preference given to combat personnel for promotions, the judgment held that the Service stream of the Army do not constitute a single cadre with officers serving in Arms and Arms Support, even though “they may all be drawing the same salary, holding the same rank, wearing the same uniform and serving the same employer with similar service benefits.” The court said the Army cannot be seen as one with the Indian Administrative Service or the Indian Police Service.

“It was contended that the policy decision taken by Government of India was in the larger interest of national security, for making the Army more efficient, and that the same did not violate any right, much less any fundamental right,” the apex court held.