Analysis: Army’s code of conduct

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The former Adjutant General Lt-General Ashwani Kumar, who retired recently divulged the army’s plan of coming up with a code of conduct for the retired officers of the army. The Adjutant General’s duty includes maintaining discipline in the force and to take care of issues like pension, medical facilities, and welfare measures.

Under the new proposed code, all the serving officers are to sign an undertaking to follow the code of conduct after retirement. Whether the violation of such a code of conduct invites punishment or not is yet to be confirmed but the army sources have claimed that it would not have any punitive measures attached to it.

The situation as of now is that only the officers serving in the army are governed under the Army Act. After retirement, all the officers are then governed under the normal laws of the land and not under the Army Act.

Background of the development:

This has been done keeping in view the past actions of some of the retired officers, as they often have been critical about a number of issues that include: but are not limited to the withdrawing income tax exemption on disability pension, opening up of cantonment roads for civilian public and the ‘One Rank One Pension’ (OROP).

Since the public outcry regarding such issues by the retired servicemen has repeatedly put the army in a disconcerting position. As a justification for this proposed code, some sources have said that the need for this was felt after the regular cases of the retired army servicemen making critical and disgraceful comments on social media about the Army, thereby putting the Army in an uncomfortable situation.

They have also claimed that at the current stage the views of the currently serving officers were being taken and later on even the ex-servicemen would be duly consulted as such.

The veterans in an answer to this proposed code of conduct wrote an open letter stating that such a code of conduct was at best “silly” and is an infringement upon their democratic rights of free speech and expression enshrined under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India.

Major General S.S. Chauhan (retd.) has commented that the Army needs to realize that the Constitution of India is the real code of conduct, and he further questioned whether the Army would ask to surrender the rank if they refused to sign the undertaking?

Whereas, the proponents of the code of conduct supported their argument by enunciating that after an officer retires, he is deemed to keep his last rank and thereby is expected that he follows the rules so proposed by any new order that is introduced. Be that as it may, the majority of the ex-servicemen feel that such a code would be “draconian”, “despotic” and against the “principles of democracy”.

Salient features of the proposed conduct:

Even though the Army has clarified that if such a code of conduct does get formulated then it would only be having an advisory stature and nothing more. Further, the army sources also clarified that such a code would not be binding and neither will it have punitive measures. The Army men once retired does not come under the purview of the Army Act.

These clarifications on the proposed code were done after the army received heavy criticisms regarding the same. One senior army official clarified the following regarding the proposed code of conduct: –

  • Code of conduct will be advisory in nature.
  • No punitive measures.
  • Nature: not binding.
  • Code will propose ways on how to carry the ranks in a better way by the retired officers.
  • Code will also deal with the issue of seniority among the veterans. The issue is whether the officer who retired at a higher rank is senior or the one who is senior in age or number of years in service.

Significance of code of conduct:

As we have seen on numerous occasions how the veterans have taken to social media to express their views regarding the recent policy decisions. Albeit, the Constitution of our country grants every citizen the right to speech and expression under Article 19(1) but at the same time the Constitution of our country also limits that freedom under Article 19(2) wherein certain criteria are given meeting which the freedom to speak uninhibitedly gets restricted.

The criteria given are as follows- ” Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense”

Thus, the question that one needs to ask is whether such a show of blatant opposition by the retired army officers to the current policies comes under any one of such restrictions or not. Even if such a show of blatant opposition does not come under any of the “reasonable restrictions” under Article 19(2) then the question of whether the Army could hold the veterans responsible after their signing of such undertaking should be analyzed.

Is it binding in nature?

After hue and cry over the proposed code of conduct; the army sources confirmed that any such code of conduct as and when it forms would not be legally binding on the veterans and would only be advisory. The code of conduct would be treated merely as guidelines. The Army has also stated that neither would the code be compulsive nor would it be binding.

On one hand, every person enlisting themselves in the Army know that their freedom of speech would be curtailed as per our Constitution while they are serving; so should it stay curtailed even after retirement? As they do retire with their last rank and their words hold as much respect and importance in the society as anyone else’s rather even more.

On the contrary, the veterans argue that the Army Act ought not be applied to them after retirement. Thus, the veterans too are given the freedom of speech and expression like any other citizen of the country. Looking at both sides, the current path chosen by the Army: The code of conduct only being the guidelines and not to be followed as a compulsion seems like the best way forward.

–This article is brought to you in collaboration with Ayushi Srivastava from Bharati Vidyapeeth, Pune.

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