The passing of the Inter-Services Organisations(Command, Control & Discipline) Bill in the Lok Sabha on Friday marks a significant legislative milestone in the history of the Indian armed forces since it empowers the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to give Parliamentary backing to the existing and future tri-services organisations.
Piloted by the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), created in early 2020, the ISO Bill—still not an Act since the Rajya Sabha is yet to pass it—now gives legislative teeth to India’s existing tri-services organisations such as the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC). The planned formation of joint or theatre commands in the near future will also be brought under the ambit of the ISO’s provisions, according to people familiar with the matter.
It needs to be noted that the ANC and SFC were created by an executive order after India’s highest decision-making body on security matters, the Cabinet Committee on security (CCS) had approved their formation.
The ISO bill will give a formal legislative sanction to these two organisations. The last legislative empowerment for the armed forces took place way back in 1957 when the Navy Act was passed by the Parliament. The Army and the Air Force Acts were approved by the Indian Parliament in 1950.
Amongst other provisions the Bill, introduced and piloted by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, deals with the most radical military restructuring in recent decades. The ‘ISO Bill-2023’ aims to grant Inter-Services Organisations (ISO) commanders the necessary disciplinary and administrative authority over personnel serving in such establishments.
By enacting this law, the Indian Armed Forces will witness greater integration and jointness in inter-service organisations, setting the stage for creating integrated theatre commands (ITCs). These ITCs will ensure a unified war-fighting machinery comprising the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Notably, the Bill also empowers the government to establish an Inter-Services Organisation.
Armed Forces personnel are currently governed by their specific Service Acts – Army Act 1950, Navy Act 1957, and Air Force Act 1950. The ‘ISO Bill-2023’ offers tangible benefits, including effective discipline maintenance in inter-service establishments by the Heads of ISOs, avoiding the need to revert personnel under disciplinary proceedings to their parent Service units, and expediting the disposal of cases of misdemeanour or indiscipline, thus saving public money and time, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
It’s important to clarify that the ‘ISO Bill-2023’ is an enabling Act, not proposing any changes in the existing Service Acts/Rules/Regulations. While serving in or attached to an Inter-Services Organisation, service personnel will continue to be governed by their respective Service Acts. The key change is empowering the Heads of Inter-Services Organisations to exercise disciplinary and administrative powers as per the existing Service Acts/Rules/Regulations, regardless of the service they belong to.
Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan spearheads the effort to create three integrated theatre commands (ITCs) to enhance coordination and combat effectiveness among the Indian armed forces. The initiative is expected to move from the conceptualisation stage to seeking approvals from the Ministry of Defence(MoD) by the end of August, as reported by BharatShakti in the last week of July.
CDS and the three Chiefs have been engaging in regular meetings, investing substantial time to address differences and find practical solutions to obstacles that may arise during the implementation of the paradigm shift required for the momentous changes in operations, logistics, and the application of force under the new theatre command arrangement.
Once the new act is enacted and theatre commands receive approvals, the government estimates that the initiative will take around 12-15 months to be fully operational.