| PICTURE SPEAK |
|ALL GUNS BLAZING: Lakhwinder Singh as a brigadier in Kargil |
Major General Lakhwinder Singh, whose innovative use of howitzers during the Kargil war was one of the factors which helped the army repel intruders from the steep mountain peaks has now trained his guns on the Ministry of Defence (mod) and the steep slopes of the Indian Army's promotion pyramid.
In the petition he filed in the Delhi High Court, the artillery corps officer has alleged malafide intent on the part of the Ministry in his being overlooked for promotion to the post of lieutenant general. Singh's is the fourth instance in less than a year of a brass hat approaching the court after being denied promotion. Last year Major General R.S. Balyan of the Directorate General of Quality Assurance had approached the high court after being overlooked for promotion. Earlier, Rear-Admiral J.M. Borkar had alleged malafide intent in the promotion of Major General M.P. Jaiprakash and M.L. Chawla, who were heading the medical corps of the army's western and eastern commands, on the day they were to retire.
Singh says his name was cleared for promotion as lieutenant general twice, by two special selection boards, the first under the Chief of Army Staff General N.C. Vij two years back and the second last year under the present chief General J.J. Singh. Yet he has not been promoted.
A double judge bench comprising Justice Mukul Mudgal and Justice S. Khanna directed the army not to regularise the posts of Lieutenant General U. Bhattacharya and Lieutenant General A.K. Saini, whom the army had promoted last year. It has also asked the army not to promote any major general without its permission.
Why are the brass courting the courts? The in-house redressal system in the armed forces is in a shambles. "Where else do you go for justice?'' asks Meet Malhotra, a high court lawyer who has argued several cases for the officers of the forces.
The courts have often stepped in with embarrassing consequences for the armed forces. Last year, the IAF had to promote and reinstate a retired officer Air Marshal Harish Masand after a Supreme Court verdict.
Former Vice-Chief of Army Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi says the special selection boards which choose the top brass are beyond reproach and often, good officers are overlooked for promotion simply because there aren't enough vacancies. The army has 65 lieutenant general posts of which a dozen fall vacant each year, but candidates are often twice this number.
The steep promotional pyramid in the armed forces is even sharper in the case of corps cadres (wings other than infantry and armoured corps). The Artillery Regiment which Singh belongs to for instance, has only two posts of lieutenant general.
"The problem arises when the Ministry of Defence (which has the final say in the appointments) interferes and recommends candidates rejected by the board,'' says Oberoi.
When it interferes, as Singh's petition alleges, the army is forced to overrule its selection boards and promote officers by carving out additional posts like it did in the case of the two lieutenant generals.
-By Sandeep Unnithan