|Adm. Arun Prakash, IN (ret)|
Ever since courts of law started accepting service related cases in the early 1990s, the military leadership has been haunted by some difficult conundrums. Is the rank and file of the armed forces being set a poor example by litigious officers who decide to ignore the National Defence Academy motto “Service Before Self”, and go to court? Will a day come when a soldier questions a battlefield command and then approaches a court to justify his actions? Should that happen, won’t it undermine the foundations of discipline and command in our armed forces? While the constitution of the Armed Forces Tribunal has helped resolve many issues “in house”, the apex court still remains available to litigants.
Once considered a rare and unusual phenomenon, even a dishonourable act, taking recourse to legal remedies for redressal of service-related grievances has become common amongst military personnel. Only the short-sighted will fail to discern that the increasing intervention of courts in what should be internal affairs of the armed forces will damage their morale, cohesion and fighting spirit for two reasons.
Firstly, whenever an officer wants to represent his case convincingly in court, he will have to show both his service and his brother officers in a poor light by making allegations. He will also feel the need to enlist bureaucrats and politicians to support his cause and the media to wash dirty linen in public. The service, in order to defend itself, will be compelled to make counter-allegations. All this will happen in full view of a dismayed rank and file of the service.
Secondly, the task of the judiciary being to weigh the evidence presented in a fair and dispassionate manner, it will disregard abstract factors like customs and traditions of service, esprit de corps, the morale of the military. Judicial decisions will be delivered on points of law and could result in grave collateral damage to the prestige and honour of the military.
While recourse to law is a civil right that cannot be denied to a soldier, there are many corrective actions that the military can, and must, take to mitigate the need for litigation. This is especially relevant in the personnel management arena where justice, equity and transparency are essential. If the “system” is seen as fair and above-board, it will reduce, if not eliminate, the need to approach courts.Read the whole article for Admiral Prakash's suggested remedies.