Questions are being raised on the Army’s system of posting officers in battalions chosen for UN missions. One such unit in the spotlight is the battalion leaving for Sudan in March and the appointments of its commanding officer and the second-in-command.
The Fifth Battalion of the First Gorkha Rifles (5/1 GR) will be leaving for Sudan with a CO who has not only completed his tenure but has stayed beyond the stipulated period of command.
After being allowed to command for nearly two years and eight months, Col Sanjeev Chauhan has been retained for the tenure in Sudan although there are three battalion officers waiting in the wings.
Sources said Col Chauhan — CO 5/1 GR — took over the unit in May 2005 and will complete nearly four years at the helm when the unit returns from its UN mission in March 2009. This when the regular command of a battalion lasts not more then two years.
A detailed questionnaire was sent to the Army’s spokesperson in the Defence Ministry. He replied that “the minimum tenure of a commanding officer in the Army is two years and his turnover thereafter is dependent on several organisational factors. While considering the turnover of command in a battalion proceeding on UN mission, the organisation ensures that only the best and the most capable lead the battalion in an international environment as it reflects upon the image of the Army and the nation”.
Even more intriguing is the fact that an officer approved for the rank of Colonel — who should have been handed over command of the battalion — has, instead, been posted as second-in-command (2-IC) in contravention of the Army’s policy.
Lt Col HS Sandhu has been ‘accommodated’ as the 2-IC and will take over the battalion’s command in April 2009.
As per existing policy, no officer should wait for more then six months to take over his next command but Lt Col Sandhu will have to wait for two years.
The other two officers waiting are Lt Col GS Ahluwalia and Lt Col RR Singh.
When HT met the Colonel of the Regiment of 1 GR, Major General PCS Khati, he said the present CO was the best person available to command the unit and that there was no irregularity in allowing him to continue.