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The Indian Army has just made a tiny tweak in its HR policy but it’s a big deal for promotions

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The decision will no doubt throw up more talented officers to remain in contention for the appointments of Army Commanders.

Understanding the promotion policies in pyramid-shaped Indian Army cadre, especially at the officer level, can be challenging. Even more so for senior cadres.

So what has changed in all this with the tweaked promotion policy announced on 27 December? The answer is simple; it is just the residual service clause for the appointment of Army Commanders (C-in-C). Simply put, it is the balance service before retirement. It used to be 24 months when the vacancy arises, it has now been reduced to 18 months. The same has been made applicable to Heads of Arms/Services (HoA/S) for whom it rested earlier at 12 months.

The change in rule alters the dynamics of succession to the posts of 7 x C-in-C plus the Vice Chief, and for the appointment of the next and successive Army chiefs.

It is important to explain why the erstwhile 24-month rule was adopted in the first place during the time of General K. Sundarji (1986) and why it is being reduced to 18 months.

Recalling the time of the appointment of one Chief Justice of India for just 18 days will make it easier to appreciate the original 24-month decision.

The first thing to remember is that there is a common rank of C-in-C and Corps Commanders: Lt Gen. When a C-in-C of that time retired at the age of 58 (increased to 60 in 1998) the next senior fully qualified Lt Gen., who could be of age 57 years and 9 months, would have to be appointed C-in-C, even if it meant serving just three months in that appointment. A piquant situation had arisen with a number of such Lt Generals being appointed Cs-in-C, only to hold the appointment for a short period. To stabilise tenures in the appointment of C-in-C to a minimum of two years and allow Corps Commanders to contribute post their command, a policy decision was taken. As per this, Lt Generals could be appointed C-in-C (after commanding a Corps) only if they had a minimum of 24 months of residual service and Corps Commander if they had 36 months to serve in the rank (both ranks being Lt Gen.).

In 1997, the Army adopted the vacancy-based promotion system, the essence of which manifested in a calendar batch of officers being given the number of vacancies of the rank arising in a year. It meant that the age profile of officers in various ranks would remain static. For colonels to brigadiers, the age profile was effectively reduced through the subsequent additional vacancies given by the government after the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC) report in 2003-04.

However, the additional vacancies of Lt Gens and Maj Gens were limited, and there was a re-entry of many aspirants for promotion through the statutory complaint and legal intervention routes. This upset the annual vacancy equation and the age profile at these ranks actually increased.

This made it difficult for some outstanding Lt Gens with a slightly older age profile to be appointed Corps Commanders and, in turn, some Corps Commanders could not be elevated to C-in-C because the residual age clause could not be met. Some younger but less qualified and lower profile officers benefitted.

The 24 and 36 months residual service rule led to a less than optimally talented Army leadership. The Air Force and Navy had long ago already fixed the residual period to just 12 months for its Cs-in-C.

The Army has now altered its policy with approval of the government and limited the residual service for Cs-in-C to 18 months but has left the 36-month rule for Corps Commanders untouched. The latter part could have been reduced to 30 months, except that the Army wishes to have its Corps Commanders command their formations for more than 12 months for better tenure stability and yet be eligible for C-in-C; the age equation does not permit that if the residual tenure is reduced to 30 months. That is all the more reason for the Army to endeavour to reduce the overall age profile of its senior cadres.

The age profile can be reduced through a drastic step such as reduction in approval percentages for senior ranks or by giving more upgraded appointments but there is a finite limit to those numbers of appointments. The intent should be to have a General Officer serve five years each as Maj Gen and Lt Gen. This will ensure the best talent is always available to tenant crucial senior appointments with officers of sufficient experience and not just quick ‘promotees’; it is no fault of those ‘promotees’ though, the system has evolved them.

Lastly, the other decision to increase the residual service period for Heads of Arms/Services (HoA/S) from the current 12 months to 18 months is apt, but again, unless the system endeavours to reduce age profile, many of the best Lt Gens (other Arms/Services) with proven talent will be axed out, making way for average talent.

The current decision will no doubt throw up more talented officers to remain in contention for the C-in-C appointments; otherwise they would either superannuate or be over-age before this consideration.

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  1. Does the tenure of a Lt Gen really matters? They all maintain the status quo during their tenures anyway. The odd ones who try to change things , are gently told not to reinvent the wheel . Name one Army Cdr or Corps Cdr who has come out with any earth shaking idea to change his formation’s laid out tactics , what to talk of an Op Order, in last couple of decades.

  2. Appointing Army Commander is a promotion. Though three star he has under him corps commanders and chief of staff of command headquarters, all three stars, under him. Army commanders are appointed strictly on seniority base. Is there any example to the contrary? Then what is the fuss of talent base.

    By tweaking some more people will be eligible and seniormost of them will be army commander. Simple. Thats where apprehensions come.

    In any case army does not follow its own policies. Two months residual service of army commanders were quoted as required for continuity. This is flouted more often than not. Present eastern army commander was shifted from south western command. Army commander southern command has been shifted from ARTRAC.
    Tslking of policies. For valid reasons DGMO had to have commanded a Corps. Last two DGMOs commanded Corps after DGMO tenure. We have to believe there were no three stars after command of a Corps was worth to become DGMO!

    Please show me the rule of appolnting DGMO.

    It does not happen in advanced countries. Present NSA of USA was not cleared to become Brig Gen. McMaster had done wonderfully well in first gulf war. Was part of team of writing CI Doctrine by Petreus. Still he did not make it. Secy of Defence and Secy of Army had to order a special board under the chairmanship of Petreus to promote him.

    Every body in the army knows how successive Chiefs have promoted Cols to Brig from his own regiments against all odds. A gentleman from Sikh Light Infantry was promoted as Brig flouting all norms and then was posted in 25 Inf Div sect in the show window with disasterous consequenses. I am sure he still would have got a 9 point report from his IO.

    Army has to be very strict in following own policies. In todays world your slip will show, transparently!

  3. Policies are made to benefit some so implementation after some years will be of no consequence to makers. Once a sr officer beautifully brought out ‘ Rules are for fools’ so we will keep having such policy changes as per requirement.policeies are made for certain reason and side effects can be sorted out later

  4. Too many changes to an established policy is avoidable.To my mind stability in a senior assignment is more important for combat effectiveness.Reduced and frequent changes do not add any better efficiency!Such moves invariably get viewed as favouring someone.Armed Forces will always require younger age profile at top leadership levels.

  5. The whole game of Indian Armed Forces ranks and promotions revolves around the Nehruvian imerative ensuring that they are less competent than and subservient to Neta-Babus rather than what is in the interests of national Security. No different from other “Social Engineering” Policies such as “reservations” or fabouring alien religions and ideologies at the expense of native religions and cultures.

  6. This tweak is being viewed in defence circles as being tailor made for the ex DGMO who will be the first to benefit on 31/5/18. So rather than fading away into the sunset and cultivating his roses, the General Officer will now also have his hat in the ring for the next COAS.
    You say “The current decision will no doubt throw up more talented officers to remain in contention for the C-in-C appointments”. Whats the point of having more Lt Gens “in contention” if the principle of seniority ie date of birth / intra IMA course seniority still continues to be the main plank for elevation to Army Cdr?. Merit and not your date of birth should be the criteria for elevation from Corps Cdr to Army Cdr.

  7. An article written by an ex MS must make sense to every reader.
    As understood, the number of vacancies have been reduced and age profile of retirement for Cols has been increased.
    Tampering with policy appears to be warped and will create dissatisfaction since in a vacancy based system upward mobility is possible only if and when people superannuate or there is an increase in vacancies.
    In the past too such antics have been tried much to the dissatisfaction of many.
    A policy change must not be made to favour a few.

  8. Can you explain increasing tenure for Heads of Arms and services is detrimental and same is not so for C -in -C?
    2. What is the rationale for 18 months? If boards are held every year …Why not a tenure of 12 months?
    3. While you have given historical facts…Can you carryout a detailed prognosis on the impact? Justify how it will through up more talent?
    4. Any policy when tweeted or changed has an adverse impact on the immediate ..Which is unwarranted…Therefore …In HR issues don’t you think it is appreciate to implement wef a future dt when the current contemporaries who tweeted the policy do not stand to benifit or otherwise?

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