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Merit-based promotion system

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The issue under discussion is the merit-based promotion beyond the rank of Lt Gen for being promoted to Commander-in-Chief and Chief. This under normal circumstances happens by virtue of the IC number seniority amongst the contenders and his residual service, which is a factor shaped by the date of birth. To seek merit amongst this one per cent of the officers of the batch is akin to seeking out a bright star on a clear night, as one will be able to see many bright stars.

On being promoted to the rank of Lt Gen, no Annual Confidential Reports (ACR) is being initiated on him to assess his performance. The reason to do away with the performance reports at this level was for the enrichment of the organisation, to be able to hold discussions with divergent views and let dissent be encouraged for the debating of critical and operational issues, to reach the finality after due deliberations. To make a comparison at this stage of service to assess the inter-se-merit may be difficult and strikingly subjective.

Therefore, many are of the opinion that the merit-based promotion beyond the Corps Commander is delusory and would be based on subjective perceptions of the select few than being objective. It would also lead to the politicisation of the Armed forces, which may not be good in the long run. It will also discourage dissent at higher levels, which may not be good for the organisation. The professional competence of officers who tenet the rank of Lt General with nearly 35 years of service would be of an exceptionally high order, and superseding some at this stage of service due to “merit-based promotion” may have an impact on service spirit and morale. On the other hand, the appointment of the Chief has always been the prerogative of the Government in power and will continue to be done as hither-to-fore.

Despite the above arguments, there is a considered view on the imperative need to review the promotion system, but at an early stage of the officer’s career. In case we wish to revamp the existing promotion system, it should be done at Colonel to Brigadier promotion board and Brigadier to Major General promotion board, with an out of the box system by also considering and quantifying certain factors, so very essential to be imbibed by the officers seeking progressive career growth. The system should ensure that that promotion goes beyond quantifying the Confidential Reports and courses. The war reports and performance during the war must get their due place of recognition.

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The issue of retaining the seniority of officers by IC number till his retirement is also somewhat imperfect. This seniority allocated at IMA training cannot continue to be retained throughout the service of officers in the same pecking order. There is a distinct need to review the seniority of officers based on their performance in service rather than continue with the IMA performance. The first seniority roll could be reviewed and modified during the promotion from Col to Brigadier, which is about 25 years of service, a good enough period to highlight the calibre and potential of the officer. The inter-se seniority can be redrawn based on the merit of the officers approved for the rank of Brigadier. They would pick up their rank according to the merit which should be known to all and not the IC number seniority.

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Brig Umesh Singh Bawa Vrc, SM
Brig Umesh Singh Bawa Vrc, SM
Umesh Singh Bawa Vrc, SM a PhD in Public Administration retired from the Indian Army as Brigadier. He is an infantry officer and author of a book called Mashkoh: Kargil as I saw it. He was awarded Vir Chakra during the Kargil conflict in 1999.


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