Govt widens pool for selection of next CDS
Scores of top serving and retired officers from the army, air force and navy will now be eligible for the top post that fell vacant after General Bipin Rawat was killed in a helicopter crash on December 8, 2021.
NEW DELHI: India’s next chief of defence staff (CDS) could be one of the three serving chiefs, any serving three-star officer, any retired chief who is below 62, or any retired three-star officer also below the same age, with the government amending the Army, Air Force and Navy rules that broaden the pool from which the CDS will be selected even as they immediately exclude the most talked about candidates for the critical post.
Scores of top serving and retired officers from the army, air force and navy (the army alone has 91 serving lieutenant generals) will now be eligible for the top post that fell vacant after General Bipin Rawat was killed in a helicopter crash on December 8, 2021. His death is widely seen as having stalled India’s push towards jointmanship or theaterisation, an imperative for modern fighting forces.
It appears the government has a panel of suitable candidates in mind for the post of CDS, and the field is now open for top serving and retired officers from the three services, said military affairs expert Lieutenant General DB Shekatkar (retd), who headed a high-powered committee that presented its report on enhancing the military’s combat potential to the government in December 2016. But there’s another school of thought that suggests that the amendment of the rules shows that the government has made up its mind, and that an announcement on the new CDS could come shortly. If that is indeed the case, the hypothetical situation of a three-star general vaulting over the service chiefs (all four-star generals) and becoming CDS and the first among equals in the military hierarchy (the person would also automatically become a four-star general) could well play out.
Earlier, it was widely believed that one of the three service chiefs may be elevated to the rank of CDS, as had happened in Rawat’s case. Also, the Shekatkar committee had recommended in its report that the government should choose CDS from among the three service chiefs.
Three separate gazette notifications, published on June 6, state that the central government may appoint any of these top serving or retired officers as CDS “if considered necessary, in public interest”.
“The Central Government may, if considered necessary, in public interest, appoint as Chief of Defence Staff, an officer who is serving as Lieutenant General or General or an officer who has retired in the rank of Lieutenant General or General but has not attained the age of 62 years on the date of appointment,” said the gazette notification amending the Army Rules Act, 1954.
The government published similar notifications amending the Navy and Air Force rules. While retired chiefs will now be eligible to be appointed as CDS, none of the immediate predecessors of the current chiefs will be in contention for the top job as they are above 62. Former army chief General MM Naravane and former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria are both over the age of 62; interestingly, at various times in the past year, their names have done the rounds as a contender for the post of CDS.
Service chiefs end their term after three years in the job or when they turn 62, whichever is earlier. Lieutenant Generals and equivalent ranks retire at the age of 60.
“The amendments to the rules are in line with the government’s thinking on appointing CDS through deep selection. It can now select CDS from a broader pool of candidates to take military reforms further,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).
The notifications add that the government can extend the service of CDS “for such period as it may deem necessary subject to a maximum age of 65 years” in public interest.
Rawat was spearheading the theaterisation drive to best utilise the military’s resources for future wars and operations. His demise was seen as a setback to the ongoing military reforms, including theaterisation.
The current theaterisation model to enhance tri-service synergy seeks to set up four integrated commands — two land-centric theatres, an air defence command and a maritime theatre command. The armed forces currently have 17 single-service commands spread across the country. The army and air force have seven commands each, while the Indian navy has three.
The government expected Rawat, who took charge as India’s first CDS on January 1, 2020, to bring about jointness among the three services in a three-year time frame (by January 2023). Previous timelines may now have to be revised, officials said.
Talking about theaterisation drive in May, army chief General Manoj Pande said that while there were areas of “convergence and common understanding”, some issues “still need to be addressed”, and these will have to be taken up for resolution at the appropriate level.
As CDS, Rawat wore multiple hats: he was the permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee (COSC), headed the department of military affairs (DMA), and was the single-point military adviser to the defence minister.