Don't post us in field areas since we are 'non-combatants', say personnel of Indian Army's 'services'

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Oct 12, 2017, 03.48 PM(IST) Written By: Raghvendra Rao

The gun-battle broke out at the Choken Post in Keran sector near the Line of Control at around 7.30 am, officials said. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

In a move that has led to some degree of consternation in India's defence establishment, some personnel from the Army Service Corps (ASC) have said that since they are “non-combatants” they should not be considered for posting in field areas.

In response, the Indian Army has stated that it was never in dispute that all arms and services are “combatants” and at no stage has the Army referred to Service Units being non-combatant units.

“Army performs its role in war and peace as a whole and not in isolated compartments. Each Arm and Service has designated role and function,” the Army said after the matter cropped up during the recently held Army Commanders Conference.

The roots of this controversy lie in a bitter career progression battle that has been ranging on between the various entities that function under the Combat Arms, Combat Support Arms and Services categories.

Several personnel working with Services like the Armed Service Corps, Ordnance, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers have now started complaining that their career progression is not at par with their counterparts in Combat Arms like Infantry, Armoured and Mechanized.

And to take the argument further, the aggrieved personnel have stated that since they are being treated as “non-combatants”, they should be not posted in combat duties in field postings.

The Army, on its part, has maintained that Combat Arms, Combat Support Arms and Services are “operational entities” of Army having “clear and defined roles with charter of duties”.

The Army has also maintained consistently that without diluting the role played by Services in maintaining logistic support to Combat Arms during operations, Commanding Officers of ASC, Ordnance and Electronics and Mechanical Engineers are not required to largely remain in contact with frontline forces where major combat may take place during operations.

“Therefore, ages of Command of Services could be higher than those of arms, where COs are expected to move forward in the combat zone, where their physical efficiency becomes relevant,” the Army has said.

The Army also says that a number of Officers, JCOs and Other Ranks from Combat Support Arms and logistic units are posted on tenure basis in infantry units dealing with counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism in a bid to boost the strength essential in “Line of Control, Low-Intensity Conflict, Counter-Insurgency and Counter-Terrorist environment”.

“This also provides much necessary operational experience to these Officers, JCOs and Other Ranks,” the Army has stated adding that performance of personnel from Services has been “noteworthy”.

Army sources say that around 20 years back, the career progression of personnel working in Services was far better than those working in Combat Arms and that the cream of the personnel used to opt to Services and not Combat Arms.

“This had led to a situation where it became difficult to keep the motivational levels high for infantry personnel who are supposed to go to the battle zone and take bullets for you,” a source explained. “It was then that the system realized that the handle of the axe had got converted to iron while the bladed head had become of wood. A force needs to keep the sharpness of the weapon intact. That's why policies were made to ensure that personnel who were fighting the country's battles continue to be motivated,” the source added.

The Army maintains that in correcting an earlier anomalous situation, some new issues may have got created but Chief of Army Staff Bipin Rawat has already said that he would “consider all arms and services at par and they would get their dues that they deserve”.

The Army has also assured of all necessary corrections to put to rest all anguish amongst some personnel regarding discrimination in their status.