The issue of the Indian Army’s services being non-combatants was discussed at the ongoing army commanders’ conference being conducted in Delhi. In relation, some personnel from the Army Service Corps (ASC) have said that as they are non-combatants they should not be considered for field postings. However, the army today stated that it has never referred to services being non-combatant units, but “aberrations” are being discussed with the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat assuring necessary action.
The army is made up of the combat arms- infantry, mechanised infantry, armour and artillery, combat support arms- engineers, signals and air defence and the services- ASC and Army Ordnance Corps. Furthermore, a statement issued by the army said that some personnel from ASC, which looks after the logistics of the army, have expressed apprehensions that because they are non-combatants they should not be considered for posting to field areas.
The Army Headquarters in a submission to the Supreme Court last year had called the services cadre, comprising of 20 per cent of the army, as non-combatant. This word in reference to the services came up in 2009. Furious over the army’s position, several services cadre officers expressed their reluctance to proceed to postings to counter-insurgency and forward areas. Later several officers filed a petition in the Supreme Court, stating that they have been falsely declared ‘non-operational’. Recently, a Major in the ASC filed a petition in the apex court against his posting to the Rashtriya Rifles, a combat arm based in J&K, when the army considered him as a non-combatant for promotion. He added that the Army could not take a dual stand, which is treating an ASC officer as ‘operational’ for postings, but branding him ‘non-operational’ for promotion.
On the other hand, the army in its affidavit to the SC mentioned that the army performs its role in war and peace as a whole and not in isolated compartments. The army said that the combat arms, combat support arms and services are “operational entities”, which have defined roles. The army explained that its consistent stand during litigation has been that the Commanding Officers (CO) of the ASC, Ordnance and Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) are not required to remain in contact with frontline forces, where major combat may take place. Therefore, ages of command of services could be higher than those of the combat arms, where COs are expected to move forward in the combat zone.
Importantly, the army added, “It was never in dispute that all arms and services are combatants. Hence, at no stage has the Army referred to Services Units being non-combatant Units.”
The army in the affidavit also said that to boost the strength along the Line of Control, counter insurgency and counter terrorist environment several officers and other ranks from combat support arms and logistic units are posted on tenure basis in the infantry (Counter Insurgency/ Counter Terrorist units). “This also provides much necessary operational experience to these Officers, JCOs and Other Ranks,” says the army.
In addition, General Rawat had mentioned that he would consider all arms and services at par and they would get their dues that they deserve. “Some aberrations, if these are being perceived by any particular arm or service are being addressed during the Conference. The anguish amongst some personnel on discrimination in their status, needs to be put to rest and the Army Chief has assured that necessary corrections, where needed will be addressed,” reads the army’s statement.