Sunday, July 14, 2024

Changed Selection Process For Chief Of Defence Staff

Adm. Sunil Lanba (r), former Indian Navy Chief 

The Ministry of Defence issued a notification on 7 June 2022, amending the Army, Navy and Air Force rules for the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). According to the regulations issued on 28 December 2019, the eligibility was restricted to serving Army, Navy and Air Force Chiefs. The amendment to the service rules now makes serving three-star and retired three-and four-star
officers eligible for appointment as the following CDS.

Now, all serving three-star, retired three-star officers, and four stars officers (Three Chiefs) who would not reach 62 years of age on the date of appointment are eligible for the post of CDS. Based on the new notification, the number of officers now eligible for the office of the Chief of Defence Staff will be about 150 serving and 50 retired Lieutenant Generals and 3 serving Service Chiefs below the age of 62 years.

The eligibility criteria for selection of the service chief remain unchanged
and are limited to the serving Commander in Chiefs and the Vice Chief of that service. The appointment of the CDS and the service chiefs is the prerogative of the Government of the day. The selection of the Service Chief to date has been made by all governments adhering to the principle of seniority-cum-merit amongst the eligible officers where seniority is given priority.

There has been a debate if this is the best system for selecting the Service Chief. Suggestions have been made for merit-cum-seniority based on a deep selection. The selection is based on the officers’ dossiers, made up of the Annual Confidential Report of the appraisal system and clearance from the Intelligence Bureau.

The Defence Minister recommends the name to the Cabinet’s Appointment Committee, which now consists of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, who make the final selection. The selection system has worked over time with minimal political interference in the selection of the Service Chiefs. In addition, the system has largely kept the senior hierarchy of the three services from seeking political patronage.

There was a long-standing demand for the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff or Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The Government finally agreed in 2019 and announced the creation of the post of CDS in Aug 2019. The eligibility criteria announced were restricted to the three Service Chiefs. Gen Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Army Staff, was selected for the post and assumed office on 01 January 2020 for three years.

The Government also created the Department of Military Affairs, with the CDS as the
Secretary of the Department. Administrative and Financial powers of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) were transferred to the Department of Military Affairs (DMA).

Now with the change in the eligibility criteria for the post of CDS and opening it up for
serving/retired three-star under the age of 62 and Service Chiefs, we now have a panel of about 200 officers. How is the Government going to shortlist a panel? If it is going to be on seniority coupled with merit, then it should be one of the Service Chiefs; if it is going to be on merit coupled with seniority, then it should still be one of the Service Chiefs, as he would have been selected from amongst the panel which included all the serving Commander-in-Chiefs.

Prudence would suggest that all things remaining equal, the experience should be given the maximum weightage, and the selection of CDS should be from amongst the three serving Chiefs only. He would have experience in dealing with higher defence management issues, tri-services issues and the progress made under the new set-up of CDS and DMA. Any other option for the selection process will be mired in controversies due to a lack of transparency and a formal selection system based on merit.

Admiral Sunil Lanba (r) is a former Indian Navy Chief

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