In a rare instance of intervention, the defence ministry has overruled the Navy and upheld that the seniority principle cannot be violated while making top appointments.
The defence ministry has based its key decision on an opinion from the law ministry to end a two-month standoff over the appointment of the Chief of Integrated Staff Committee (CISC), a three-star officer responsible for bringing about synergy between the three services.
Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha was on Monday appointed as the CISC after the Appointments Committee of Cabinet cleared the defence ministry's proposal. The Navy was not in favour of giving Sinha the job and had instead proposed the name of an officer junior to him, raising hackles in the ministry.
Ministry sources said the Navy wanted its deputy chief Vice-Admiral Robin Dhowan to be appointed as CISC.
The ministry scrapped the Navy's proposal to supercede Sinha after being cautioned by the country's second-highest ranking law officer, Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium, that "violation of the seniority principle by the navy would not stand scrutiny in a court of law." He also recommended that "the practice of supercession be discouraged unless there are clearly defined reasons."The government's legal arm cited Sinha's remarkable track record to back its opinion. Law minister M Veerappa Moily endorsed Subramanium's opinion saying principles of natural justice could not be ignored in matters of key appointments in the armed forces. Sinha held the post deputy CISC until now.
Navy sources, however, were upset with what they called defence ministry's intrusion into the service's domain.
Sinha’s case reflects a growing trend in the defence ministry of referring tricky matters for legal opinion.