The Army gave personnel below officer rank (PBOR) the opportunity of a lifetime in 1984 by introducing a career plan for them. The Regimental Commissioned Officer's (RCO) cadre threw up a new avenue for promising soldiers. But 22 years later, their aspirations remain unfulfilled.
Their grouse: the government has extended the retirement age of regular officers, as recommended by the AV Singh Committee, but the same benefit eludes them.
The New Year will usher in disappointment for 57 RCOs who hang up their boots on Sunday. Most of them are majors in the age group of 49 to 51. In contrast, colonels and below superannuate at 54 in the Army. The service conditions of RCOs specify that they shall serve for 12 years or till the age of 52, whichever is earlier. But RCOs argue that the AV Singh Committee report should override that condition and apply evenly to the officer cadre.
An RCO major told HT: "Singling us out will de-motivate the PBOR to aspire for officer cadre. I don the same uniform as a regular major. Why should I not be treated like him just because I was a jawan once?"
The Ministry of Defence (Finance) thinks the RCOs' demand merits discussion. It even agreed in principle to extend the benefits of the AV Singh report to this cadre and raise the retirement age to 54 years or completion of 14 years of service. In January 2006, the ministry was advised to put up the proposal before the Cabinet for approval. But nothing has happened. Scores of RCO officers moved court but many petitions were dismissed as the Centre filed counter-affidavits claiming that the matter was under consideration and would be settled at the earliest.
An Army headquarter communication dated January 1, 2001, unambiguously states that RCOs are required to perform specific duties of adjutant, quarter master and officer commanding (OC) headquarters just like regular officers in units if the posts are not held. Another affected officer said: "We are following the instructions of our COs and discharging duties like regular officers. In 2004, short service commissioned officers were given extension to serve for 14 years. We overcame heavy odds to become officers and should be given our due."
Colonel JS Sandhu (retired), who is representing a few RCOs in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, said that at a time when the Army is battling a shortage of over 11,800 officers, it would be a good idea to utilise the services of the RCO cadre in a meaningful manner.