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india today insightPrime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech in 2019, had announced that India would soon have its first chief of defence staff (CDS), who would be tasked with bringing jointness and integrating the operations of the army, navy and air force to make them more efficient in the face of the changing nature of war and security in the world. The late General Bipin Rawat was appointed the first CDS in January 2020. Since then, the office of the CDS has been working to infuse synergy between the three forces and create integrated theatre commands, wherein elements of the army, navy and air force would operate under one commander.

At a time when the Indian military is taking gradual steps towards its biggest reform of integrated theatre commands, which is based on the concept of ‘One Border, One Force’, the Lok Sabha has passed the Inter-Services Organisations (Command, Control and Discipline) Bill, 2023. The legislation bestows powers on the commander-in-chief, officer-in-command or any other officer heading a tri-services organisation to take disciplinary and administrative action against personnel under them, who are currently governed by the respective laws of the three services, that is the Army Act, 1950; the Air Force Act, 1950; and the Navy Act, 1957. “The bill empowers the central government to constitute an inter-services organisation,” said a ministry of defence (MoD) official, implying at the goal of creation of integrated theatre commands.

The MoD claims the enactment of the bill will have various tangible benefits, such as ensuring effective discipline in the inter-service establishments by the heads of inter-services organisations, no requirement of reverting personnel under disciplinary proceedings to their parent service units, expeditious disposal of cases of misdemeanour or indiscipline, and saving of time and public money by avoiding multiple proceedings.

Introducing the bill in the Lok Sabha on August 4, defence minister Rajnath Singh described it as an important step towards integration and jointness of the armed forces to face future challenges.

The Indian military currently has numerous inter-services organisations and joint-training establishments, where personnel of the armed forces and other forces serve together. The commander-in-chief or officer-in-command of the inter-services organisations is not empowered to exercise disciplinary/ administrative powers over personnel of other services than their own.

Explaining the Inter-Services Organisations Bill, an MoD official said the commander-in-chief, officer-in-command or any other officer specially empowered by the central government will have all the disciplinary and administrative powers in respect of personnel serving in or attached to inter-services organisations for adherence to discipline and proper discharge of duties, irrespective of the services these personnel belong to.

For the purpose of the Act, the commanding officer would mean the officer in actual command of the unit, ship or establishment. To maintain command and control in the absence of the commander-in-chief or officer-in-command, the officiating incumbent will be empowered to initiate all disciplinary or administrative actions over the service personnel appointed, deputed, posted or attached to an inter-services organisation.

The Inter-Services Organisations (Command, Control and Discipline) Bill is essentially an enabling Act and does not propose any change in the existing service Acts, rules and regulations, which are time-tested and have withstood judicial scrutiny over the past six decades or so. Service personnel when serving in or attached to an inter-services organisation will continue to be governed by their respective service Acts. What the enactment of the bill, however, will do is to empower the heads of inter-services organisations to exercise all the disciplinary and administrative powers as per existing service Acts, rules and regulations, irrespective of the service the personnel belong to.

India’s theatrisation plan has made slower-than-expected progress owing to differences within the three services. The Indian military functions under 17 single-service commands, and the plan is to integrate them into five theatre commands.

India’s theatrisation plan has made slower-than-expected progress owing to differences within the three services. The Indian military functions under 17 single-service commands, and the plan is to integrate them into five theatre commands. The major military powers in the world, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France and China, operate under theatre commands. In 2016, China created the Western Theatre Command, which amongst other regions, focuses on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) whereas India has eight commands to manage the China front.

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