Defence Ministry Withdraws Letter that Created Rank Parity Controversy in Armed Forces

The Defence Ministry has with immediate effect withdrawn its contentious letter of 2016 which lowered the functional equivalence of armed forces personnel with respect to their civilian counterparts in the Armed Forces Headquarters. The orders were issued on Friday by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The letter had caused severe disgruntlement among the services and prompted the government to appoint a committee to give recommendations on the issue.

The issue of rank parity between military personnel and Armed Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) civil service officers was one of the issues that Sitharaman had taken up on priority after taking over change as the defence minister in September last year.

A circular issued by the defence ministry, dated 18 October, 2016 on rank equivalence between defence officers and armed forces headquarters civil service officers, brings the ranks of armed forces officers a notch down compared to earlier status.

“The Ministry of Defence letter dated October 18, 2016 on the issue of equivalence between Armed Forces Officers and Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Services (AFHQ CS) Officers is withdrawn,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Ms Sitharaman’s order has cleared the decks for restructuring of ranks in the defence ministry in consultation with the armed forces.

In the letter, the Defence Ministry had defined the rank equation between a civilian officer and serving military officer based on duties and functional responsibilities.

As per that a Principal Director is equivalent to a Major General, a Director is equivalent to a Brigadier and a Joint Director is equivalent to a Colonel. This effectively lowered the ranks by one notch as earlier a Colonel was considered equivalent to a Director.

Following protests from the armed forces, the Defence Ministry had constituted a three-member committee to look into the issue but the report was never submitted to the Ministry. The issue then went up to the Defence Minister for a resolution.

“So far as the channel of reporting/rendition of Annual Performance Appraisal Report (APAR) is concerned, status quo ante is hereby restored, i.e., the position which existed prior to the issue of MoD letter dated October 18, 2016 shall prevail,” the statement noted.

The government has recently approved cadre review of AFHQ and this would be implemented and designations to be created as a result of the additional posts sanctioned by the Union Cabinet for the civilian cadre will be done in “consultation with Service Headquarters (HQ).”

“Local designations assigned to both service and civilian officers in service headquarters/ Inter Service Organisations (ISOs) is hereby withdrawn. Both service and civilian officers will use their respective cadre designations only,” the statement added.

In military circles, the letter was interpreted as an attempt to downgrade the forces, for whom rank signifies honour and respect. “Status and functional responsibility go hand in hand. How can you separate them?” former army chief General VP Malik had then said.

Manohar Parrikar, who was the defence minister, had then responded to the outrage in the forces with a promise to revisit the order. But the ministry had later ruled out a change, insisting that the letter did not really alter the parity between civilian officials and the military. Ms Sitharaman’s intervention overrules this stand.

Source: NDTV