A Need to Re-Think The Indian Army’s Recruitment Policy

This MVI debate dives deep into the Indian Army’s 'recruit' selection system and brings well considered views by experts proposing potential reforms.

A Need to Re-Think The Indian Army’s Recruitment Policy

Editor’s Note

The fallacies of both the Indian Army’s recruit and officer selection system have once again come under scanner with the leak of army recruitment exam question papers. A major rank officer has been taken into custody with connection to the incident, while a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe launched into armed forces officer selection in which 17 Indian Army personnel, including five Lieutenant Colonels and two Major-ranked officers apart from six others have been caught in an officer recruitment scandal at several Service Selection Board (SSB) Centre’s.

The issue of officer selection, training, grooming and the perceived dichotomy between the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) based selection system and the requirements of the end user; the tri-services have been laid threadbare by Team MVI over the past decade.

This debate lays emphasis solely on the Indian Army’s recruit selection ‘Open Recruitment Rally’s’ which have long been embroiled in one scandal or another. MVI aims to brings well considered responses from both serving officers and ex-servicemembers who have been associated with recruit selection and held appointments dealing with manpower issues in the Indian Army.

A candidate takes part in a physical fitness test at an Indian Army recruitment rally at Khasa, some 15 Kms from Amritsar on May 14, 2010; NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images)

Why is this Happening? Some Possible Answers

  • The Indian Army’s selection system for recruits is over 73 years old that was meant for pre-independence native Indian Army led by the British.
  • With 65% of our 13 million Indian population below 35 years of age there should be at least 30-40% under the ages 20-25 and suitable for undergoing army recruitment entrance tests. In view of this massive availability of manpower we do not seem to value our manpower and take our outdated selection system for granted.
  • The present selection system has a physical evaluation with a 1mile (1.6km) run as the initial screening test in which all the aspiring candidates are literally put through this like herds of cattle! Only those who can run like Milkha Singh qualify for this grueling screening for which the timings are raised even beyond the excellent grade applicable for trained soldiers! Those who cannot run like Milkha stand no chance to qualify in the screening test.
  • The other physical tests like balance, pull ups/chin ups are conducted later after the screening test of 1 mile.
  • Medical tests are preceded by a written examination following which the merit list is drawn out.
  • India's 13 lakh strong army has over 10 lakh soldiers who are part of various combat arms and services, all of which need specially qualified and trained personnel depending on their trades and the needs of the individual ‘arm’ or ‘services’.
  • With 21st century warfare confronting us with multiple threats and challenges on our vast frontiers and within the country there is indeed an imperative need to seriously review and revise our army recruitment system for soldiers to meet the current technical and professional needs of our fighting forces.
  • My interaction with numerous recruiting officers over the last decade, especially the Zonal Recruitment Officer (ZRO) Pune has revealed glaring flaws, shortcomings, and drawbacks in our present system.
  • Several papers have been written in the past by both concerned officers and veterans to improve/modify the system. Unfortunately, they are lying in the deep freezer!
  • My late father served as ZRO Pune from 1964-68. They wanted his photograph for the office of new ADGRO (SC). When I enquired about our over seven-decade old selection system I was told that it is the same as it was during your father's time! That was the 1960s! Obviously, there is an imperative need to review, revise and reform it in the interest of the army and the nation at large.
Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Trigger: Observations by a Serving Recruitment Officer

A Mile for All: The 1-mile test is the first filter for even categories like Soldier Technical, Soldier Aviation, Soldier Pharmaceutical and Religious Teachers Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO)

Caste and Community-Based Recruitment Reservation: Even if you do not find meritorious candidates in a particular caste then also, we must fill the vacancies as the large number of regiments in the Indian Army are caste based.

Not an Even Playing Field: All candidates are not getting a fair chance because recruitment is still following the decades old open rallies, where almost 50,000 candidates appear for an average 600 vacancies. They are made to run in batches of minimum 200 aspirants and medical examinations are conducted on the spot in an extreme sit of run against time.

Inherent Lack of Transparency: Neither the vacancies are declassified in the advertisement nor any reserve list is maintained. These two aspects create an undesirable sight of non-transparency in the recruitment process.

Outdated Verification Measures: Though it is an immensely sensitive issue concerning national security, despite that the access to AADHAR data bank and to Digi lockers are not there with the Directorate of Recruiting, age old procedures of verification by Pradhan, Police Patil and District Collector’s office is carrying on.

Candidates run during a physical fitness test at an Indian Army recruitment rally at Khasa, some 15 Kms from Amritsar, on August 6, 2012; NARINDER NANU/AFP/GettyImages)

Experts Respond

Major General Anil Sengar (Retd), Author & Analyst

I agree with him, even though a review is already taking place and changes are being undertaken. As he says, the very tight one-mile test is a filter that keeps excellent potential candidates out and makes recruitment easier by restricting the numbers to a manageable degree the need today has changed and the military needs an intake with much different qualities. It is the large numbers that was a major problem, and the one mile was a way to simplify matters.

For long there has been a thought of having online written tests first to get better educated intake. I am not sure at what stage of implementation that stands. Like the SSB, there is a need for a test which identifies better soldier and junior leader material. For sure, the old system is too archaic. I know a lot has changed in the process, but a lot more needs to be done in the substance

Major General Vijay Pingale (Retd), ex ADGRO (SC)

Online exam for desirous candidates was planned three years back and infrastructure was partially put in place at various Area Recruitment Offices (ARO). However, states with low education levels were not in favour as they will miss out on vacancies.

Every year there are about 80 to 85,000 vacancies divided between 11 ZROs, these vacancies are further allotted to various AROs, each ZRO depending on size and population of the Zone has between four to seven AROs. The whole issues are that we must cater for the regiment and caste affliction of each group and regiment.

The system of online entrance exams can only be effective if fixed class regiments and units are done away with, which may not find favour with the military hierarchy. This may also lead to some states and groups missing out, which may not be acceptable to politicians. Some programs have been made as far as recruitment of women in the Corps of Military Police is concerned.

For about 100 vacancies, more than two lakh applications are received. To limit attendance for initial selection through physical tests, the cut off 85% in Secondary School Certificate (SSC) marks was applied.

However, here too vacancies are zone wise, so the merit is drawn zone wise. It is often seen that some zones have better material and higher merit girls, but they miss out because of zonal vacancies. Girls with lower marks from other zones may go through because of the overall lower merit of candidates.

In the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy (IN) due to limited vacancies per year and no fixed class affliction, they can manage it better and they even conduct psychological tests in addition to other tests followed in army recruitment. Due to all these contradictions the old system has continued. A bold and decisive leadership at mil and political level is required to take a call on this.

Brigadier Sarvesh D Dangwal (Retd), ex-Comdt AIPT & DDGPT

The essence of the issue, which has come under the scanner with the recent expose (revelation) is about the rampant corruption, which is a part and parcel of our Indian Society. It is an uncontested fact of our polity and society that, to root out corruption from our system is rather impossible and it will remain, irrespective of a perceivably honest and integrous Prime Minister, such as we have in present times.

With greater transparency being introduced into our executive machinery through various Acts, which bring greater transparency into public dealings, we have not been able to do much about this menace. What comes out in the public domain is but a tip of the iceberg.

Hence, it is most unlikely that anything can be done about it by instituting measures to cap the evil of corruption on public life. I am not getting into the nitty gritty and nuts and bolts of the various measures (digitisation, checks, changes, policing, punitive and reforms), which those who are well conversant with the system in vogue have written about before me, because they know the devil in the details much more than anyone else and hence, I am least qualified to contest or improve upon it.

Corruption is rampant in Indian Society and it is only the choice, which each makes to live by the urgings and dictates of one's conscience, which will make the simplest of procedures and processes work.

Unfortunately, the Indian system of jurisprudence is such that, unless and until it is an open and shut case of criminality, the wrongdoers are assured of an escape route through legalese and the interpretation of evidence as shown to the judiciary through the arguments put forth by the lawyers. We can only hope for things to improve. Period.

Major P M Ravindran (Retd), ESM Activist

Honestly, I really do not know if I have any suggestions in this regard. Not that I have not thought about it as an issue to be addressed.

Firstly, we do not have an ab initio rational selection process for most of our public services. The first stage is evidently a process of elimination, either by laying down meaningless qualifications or physical fitness standards. So, the 1-mile run is basically an elimination process when you must select only 500 from a group of 50,000. Bringing it to a manageable level of say 5,000.

Next, coming to different aspects of physical fitness, the requirement for various arms/services needs to be identified before we go on to the second stage of other fitness tests. Even here if a common minimum standard is prescribed it should be acceptable because the differences can be sorted out during training period.

If different standards are prescribed, then the selection process will have to be customised from this stage itself. With the ones for services being tested separately.

Thirdly, the more important requirement while recruiting troops for arms and services must be their aptitude or proficiency in the trade to be allotted. So, this must be done differently from what is being followed now. While diploma holders need to be recruited into technical trades, the general category sepoys should have only a minimum qualification like Secondary Level School Certificate (SSLC) or 10th standard.

Lastly, leaking of question papers is an issue of corruption and that can be tackled only if the punishment is prompt and deterrent. The written test if replaced with online tests can help to reduce the possibility of corruption.

I have also read reports of middlemen working in the recruitment area. Actually, what happens is that these guys identify candidates who are likely to be selected and approach them with offers of ensuring selection at a cost. They will even promise to return the bribe if a particular candidate is not selected. If out of 10 gullible candidates so trapped, even if two are genuinely selected the self-advertised middlemen would have made their day.

Similar experiences have been narrated by even college professors on examination duty. I have tried to think of a solution for this but failed. So long as corruption rules the roost and there are gullible or desperate job seekers, we can only pity the victims.

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The editorial team at ‘Mission Victory India’, invites responses for the purposes of furthering this debate. Views, based on your professional experiences may be sent at: [email protected]

(Views expressed are the respondents own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)


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