(Editor's Note: RAdm. Vineet Bakhshi (Retd) responds to '“SSBs Have Totally Failed!” Says Shekatkar Committee, Chairman; Marked for Closure in Report', an MVI interview of Lt Gen. (Dr.) D.B Shekatkar (Retd), Chairman of the Shekatkar Committee on Defence Reforms, which in its series of recommendations marked the closure of the DIPR, a Delhi based DRDO lab responsible for 'Indian Armed Forces Officer Selection'.
As brought out in our opening interview with Lt Gen. Shekhatkar, the DIPR is one of the 11 DRDO labs that have been recommended for closure in the report. Given that the DIPR has served the needs of the military officer selection for over seven decades what are the clinical findings of the committee to arrive at the conclusion of closing down the DIPR.
What would be the alternate system that the military would adopt and how would the transition be made from the existing DIPR based SSB system to the alternate system? What would be the likely transitional period to adopting the new system and who would be responsible? The former CO, INS Shivaji raises some valid and pertinent questions.)
Whilst serving on board INS Vikrant in 1984, our Engineer Officer, besides his sangfroid nature, brilliance with cantankerous machines, also had a wry sense of humour. When an unsolvable problem confronted us, he’d intone, “cut off the head, no head, no headache”! Similar seems to be the recommendations of the Shekatkar Committee.
Devoid of statistics or any worthwhile case studies which gives a correlation between cause and effect, it seems to have arrived at a conclusion to shut down the institutions. It has made these recommendations ignoring the high quality filtration of the system, which has produced ace fighter pilots, brilliant scientists, outstanding Commanding Officers and an abundance of selfless gallantry award winners, who have protected our motherland with their blood sweat and valour.
The quality of any institution is a function of the quality of its processes and the staff who man them. To denigrate the SSBs and the DIPR as dysfunctional would be a disservice to the many fine people who are there at present and who have served in them in the past. If there are requirements of up gradation of methods and procedures, surely the Armed Forces have the wherewithal and intellect to engage suitable experts and oversight capabilities to implement needed changes.
Yes there has been much which has changed in the last 60 years, and my own experience with the erstwhile Naval Engineering Cadets at INS Shivaji has shown that high intellect levels can make a whopping and magnificent improvement in all round performance of an individual.
Where abject moral failures have taken place, it is worthwhile to minutely examine such cases to establish as to where the erosion started. Were the tendencies identified during selection and glossed over? What sort of mentoring did the officers receive? Background checks? Were the tendencies not identified at any stage? What do their peers, superiors and subordinates have to say about the individuals? Regrettably such a system is not in place.
Such studies will only assist in strengthening the system. In a particular incident, an officer was dismissed during his training for repeated minor disciplinary infractions. The decision to do so was taken after an examination of his records from SSB and through NDA, and it was found that there were some doubts which had been expressed at the selection time, but the majority view had prevailed.
Regrettably, his nature of breaking law and order did not settle down with time, and he was dismissed. An analysis is suggested to be made of all those involved in the recent officer selection scandal. It would give an insight of the failures of our system to enable correction.
The Indian Navy has a fine organisation, Indian Ship Maintenance Authority. One of its tasks is defect analysis of failures of equipment, and institution of corrective measures. Is it time to have an independent organisation which analyses serious human failings in our million plus Armed Forces personnel, to recommend corrective measures?
Industry makes immense investments in selecting the right candidates, for it is the quality of the manpower that is the differentiator between the progressive and also ran organisations. To jettison the SSBs and DIPR on a question of cost and giving the task to private contractors, while being the flavour of the season, and may have been a guiding principle for the Committee, would be an injustice to the two organisations and to the detriment of the Armed Forces.
No head no headache is hardly a way ahead! It would be more appropriate to improve their oversight, manning and functioning, for in the long run, it is our institutions that regenerate and sustain us.
About the Respondent
(RAdm Vineet Bakhshi, an alumni of NDA, served as Commanding Officer INS Shivaji, Director General Naval Projects (Mumbai) and Chairman and Managing Director of Goa Shipyard Ltd. He can be reached at [email protected] Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')