Simmering discontent in a section of Army officers is now turning into a legal battle, as over 100 serving officers have moved the Supreme Court against the Army Headquarters deploying them in operational areas but denying them benefits including promotions.
These officers - mostly of the rank of majors and lieutenant colonels - have been named 'non-combatants' in the Army's order. Army Headquarters in its submission before the apex court last year had called the services cadre - which comprises over 20 per cent of the Army - 'non-operational'.
''This act of the Army and Union government (discrimination in promotion) has created tremendous injustice to the petitioners and others which is detrimental to the morale of the officers and in turn, to the defence of the country," they said.
What should worry newly appointed defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman is that the petitioners led by Lt Col P K Choudhary have demanded that services corps should not be deployed in operational areas alongside the combat arms if parity in promotion is not granted.
Several service cadre officers have expressed reluctance to go on operational postings, including forward and counter-insurgency areas. The cadre has nearly 10,000 officers in its strength of 2.6 lakh personnel. The Army Service Corps (ASC) is an arm of the Indian Army that handles its logistic support function.
Now over 100 servicing officers between the rank of captain and brigadier, including some gallantry awardees, have filed a petition by stating that they have been falsely declared 'non-operational'.
The petitioners stated that legally they are not supposed to wield arms as non-combatants, yet they are being used in operations. ''The Army or the government has no power to declare any part of regular army 'non-operational', since the officers of the regular army are operational by statute,'' read the petition.
''The action of the Army and the Union government in selectively treating officers of services corps as 'operational' for the purpose of deployment in operational areas but 'non-operational' for the purpose of being considered for promotion is violating the fundamental rights of the petitioners and other middle level Army officers," the petition said.
The petition further stated, ''The officers belonging to the service cadre do not hold any immunity under the Geneva Convention as applicable to combatants, and if caught on foreign soil, shall be tried not as soldiers but under the criminal law of the country.''
The Indian Army comprises 11 streams - Infantry, Armoured Corps, Mechanised Infantry, Artillery, Air Defence, Engineers, Signals, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and Other Corps including Intelligence, Aviation and other Minor Corps.
The officer mortality rate of Army Service Corps in the most recent war fought at Kargil was been 1.77 per thousand which was more than any other component of the regular Army.
At the core of the dispute is the Army's 2009 promotion policy, which was based on the recommendation of former defence secretary Ajai Vikram Singh Committee.