New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the government to apprise it about the factual position on the issue of "batch parity" in promotion of Army officers of the rank of Colonel and above belonging to various branches like the Armoured Corps, Engineering, Infantry and Artillery.
A bench comprising Justices TS Thakur and Kurian Joseph asked Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for the Ministry of Defence, to state the factual and legal positions on the issue concerning Army promotions.
The issue was raised when Meenakshi Lekhi, appearing for some Army officers, alleged that the 2009 promotion policy was aimed at providing an edge to officers of the Infantry and discriminated against officers belonging to other divisions.
The ASG referred to the existing policy and said that Army officers of certain branches were given "combat edge" in promotions and it has never been disputed.
Lekhi, however, said the position in the Army was not like UPSC where promotions of IAS, IPS and other cadres are based on rankings. The successful candidates of NDA and CDS in the Army are considered as a group and cannot be discriminated in promotions, she contended.
The bench will resume hearing the matter on September 22.
Earlier, the court had asked the Centre to file a response as to whether it had approved the Army's "command exit promotion" policy which was quashed by the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) meant for officers of the rank of Colonel and above from January 2009.
It had also asked the Defence Secretary to file an affidavit stating "whether the government had accepted the recommendations of the AV Singh Committee (AVSC) with regard to the 'command exit promotion policy'".
The bench is hearing the appeal of the Defence Ministry against AFT's decision to quash Army's 'command exit promotion' policy on the ground that it violated Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.
The apex court had on March 25 stayed the March 2 decision of AFT to quash Army's promotion policy. Some Army officers had claimed that the new promotion policy had adversely affected them as it was "arbitrary" and "highly skewed" in favour of Infantry and Artillery, as compared to other branches of the Army.
Earlier, the court had asked the Defence Ministry to file its rejoinder to the response of the officers on whose plea the AFT had passed the order.
Advocate Meenakshi Lekhi, appearing for several officers, had submitted that all ranks of personnel from Colonel and above would be affected due to the "biased" promotion policy.
She was appearing for the main petitioners including Lt Col PK Choudhary on whose plea AFT had said that the 2009 promotion policy had resulted in preferential promotions to officers of select branches of Army and hence should be scrapped.
Some of the Army officers had said that personnel of all combative divisions except Infantry and Artillery have joined the fight against the 2009 promotion policy.
In its appeal, the government had justified the promotion policy, saying the Army, being the employer, has a right to have its promotion policy and AFT should not have interfered in the "policy decision".
It further said the age profile of unit commanders in Pakistan and Chinese armies was 35 and 40 years respectively and hence the age limit of battalion commanders in Indian Army also needed to be less.
The government had in 2001 asked the Chief of Army Staff to refer the recommendations of AV Singh Committee (AVSC) on restructuring of the officer cadre of the Army. The AVSC report was aimed at reducing the age of battalion commanders.