An officer does not have a vested right to claim promotion as Army Commander only on account of seniority, but again, the criterion of seniority cannot be completely ignored by the appointment authority, said the Supreme Court while underlining a fine balance between merit and seniority in a recent judgment.
A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta was deciding an appeal filed by Lieutenant General Ravi Dastane, who has since retired, challenging the selection of Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh and Lieutenant General Sanjiv Chachra as Army Commanders.
Following an Armed Forces Tribunal decision in his favour, Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh was appointed as Chief of the Army Staff and retired from service on December 31, 2016. Lt. General Chachra also retired in May 2014. Lt. General Dastane retired in September 2014.
Noting that the main contentions of the appeal filed by Lt. General Dastane have already become infructuous with the retirement of the three officers concerned in the case, the court, however, went on to explain the finely balanced principle of selection for the post of Army Commanders.
“An officer has no vested right to claim promotion on the basis of seniority alone. But that does not mean that the authority entitled to make the appointment must ignore seniority,” Justice Chandrachud wrote.
Placed below the Army Chief, the post of Army Commander is of “crucial significance to the organisational structure of the Army.”
“Seniority may be a relevant consideration: seniority brings with it experience of organisation, experience in handling situations and experience in perspective and planning,” the apex court explained.
“…The post of Army Commander is a “selection post.” Seniority is considered, but it is not the be-all and end-all…”
“In making appointments to such crucial posts which carry enormous functional responsibilities bearing on the defence needs of the Armed Forces and ultimately of the nation, a range of relevant considerations can be borne in mind… the appointing authority is best suited to determine who among the officers in the rank of Lieutenant General is suited for appointment against a vacancy,” the court conceded ground to the discretion of the appointing authority.
There are seven Army Commanders and one Vice Chief of the Army Staff in the structure of the Army. Six of them command the six regional commands of the Army while the seventh commands the Army Training Command.