Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Indian Armed Forces: Annual Confidential Reports and Promotion Boards

The Special Army Order (SAO) giving guidelines for writing ACR is logical and lucid. Very pragmatically and wisely it lays down that all those getting 7 and above in box grading must be recommended for promotion. If not, the reasons must be recorded. In other words, any one who can do his job quite well in the present rank, should be able to perform at least adequately in the next (nothing to do with Peter’s principles, if you please). A rational approach, as there is no facility to test one in the next rank or any other alternative. Most will be horrified at the thought of settling for only average performers. However, it is a fact that the bulk of officers cleared their SSB tests with average, or even low average grading. The ‘cat’s whiskers’ must check this as it will be good for them and a boon for the Services. This obsession to promote only the ‘out standing’ or ‘above average’ is the bane of Indian Army. The poison seed sown a couple of decades back is now a giant tree, with numerous branches, bearing hideous flowers spreading its stench. We get a generous whiff daily from newspapers and TV.

Outcome of this mind set is an overwhelming desire to select the best. Nothing wrong, prima facie. But, how does one achieve it? In order to select the best of the lot, a merit list has to be drawn. Though no one admits it, this is precisely what the Promotion Boards have been doing. How else does one explain rejections of well qualified officers with unblemished records but having only 7 points, while some with minor punishments but 8 or 9 points in the kitty sail through? How can the relative merits be assessed fairly when the assessors are different and so are the service conditions– place (peace, field, high altitude), formation, task and so on. Far too many variables and parameters to apply any corrective measures and yet it is done! IITs, IIMs, AFMC and such others do not consider the marks awarded by established Universities or Boards but conduct their own tests as that is the best, if not the only, way of determining relative merits. Don’t we also have our own DSSC and TSC examinations! As examinations are not possible or practicable in this context, we have to settle for the next best. That is, let the Promotion Boards ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. Those who pass are promoted in their turn. Here comes a sore point. One is stuck with his IC number forever. What one did or did not do in his formative years, coming from diverse backgrounds, while still under the stress of training, hounds him until retirement. One may be brilliant but he cannot overtake his senior by even one number, unless the senior falters. As all of us can cite examples, hence, I will not. That, however, is another can of worms. So, let us have the ‘passed’ list, which will naturally include the ‘best of the batch’. There will be no catastrophe or even a bigger mess. Rather, there will be less injustice, heartburn, humiliation, rivalry, fake encounters to get a medal and other bad things. Showmanship has taken precedence over professional competence. Prudence, circumspection, sincerity, honesty, probity and so on are no more virtues, the last one – an offence.

Promotion Boards should, basically, screen/ clear/ approve officers for tasks or job content and not any rank– that comes later and is more of a policy matter. For example, the questions, ‘Is he fit to command a major unit’ and ‘Is he fit to be a Colonel’ are not the same as the former is precise and the latter requires derivation or redirection. Here comes the mix up in thought process, concept and visualization. The confusion thus created gives rise to unfairness and injustice. Consider the cadre review whereby Cols command units. This was not done because command of a major unit had become more arduous or demanding, requiring greater capability! Therefore, logically, all selection grade Lt Cols at that time, should have automatically been cleared to be Cols. That did not happen. Why? What happened to clear thinking, conceptualization and visualization? Matters related to ACRs and promotions are regularly tinkered with by various Chiefs and MS branch luminaries. After doing LDMC or SDMC, some feel decidedly knowledgeable and wise and start applying concepts of statistics at unit level! Thus, units start getting bizarre orders. They are subsequently cancelled but not before damaging or even sealing the careers of a few. They must have heard or read, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, but to what avail?!
Col BN Ratha(Retd)
07 Jun 10
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Inflated ACR's

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