A recent media release highlighted the following:-
- Only 250 cadets out of the total capacity of 750 are currently training at Officers' Training Academy in Gaya, Bihar.
- Sikh Light Infantry regimental centre will move base to the OTA premises in Gaya from Fatehgarh in Uttar Pradesh
- Reportedly, the new recruits will either be sent to the prestigious Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun or the OTA in Chennai from next year after the closure of Bihar academy. Sources suggest that capacities of the two academies are also under-utilised. The transition process is being worked out."
The Honest Truth Hurts
The Armed Forces across the world enjoy a place of pride far beyond that of any other service.
India enjoys a unique position in this matter, the running down of the Indian Army can be easily seen both in Government dealing and public support. A constant drubbing by various Governments over time has reduced the popularity to a low which has caused the Army authorities to review the recruiting process in the Officer cadre and even consider an incongruous idea for a 3 Year Tour of Duty! There has been much concern expressed in the print media on the shortage of officer cadre and the need to explore different avenues to create a larger Support Cadre.
A high degree of risk in a military career, like dealing with terrorists and getting stationed in far-flung areas, disruption in work-life balance, children's education in poor promotional avenues, etc have been mooted as the key reasons behind Army's failure to attract youngsters. However, several reports highlight that the reasons are different.
Mirror on the Wall
A brief look at various issues being discussed at dinner, in the homes of Army Officers, justifies the drop in popularity of the Once Proud Indian Army. Politics does not help as can be seen from the issues listed below:-
- The 29th report of the Committee On Estimates on ‘Preparedness Of Armed Forces-Defence Production & Procurement’ has said that the Modi government is neglecting India’s national security and the implications could be ‘Ominous’. Murli Manohar Joshi had said that in the past four years the Modi government had brought defence preparedness down to the level when India faced a crushing defeat at the hands of China in 1962.
- Defence Ministry announced that it will not be processing travelling and dearness allowance (TA/DA) claims of Army officers. This includes the TA/DA given to officers when they are transferred from one post to another or when they have to travel to take part in field exercises and training programmes. The back tracked due to criticism.
- Vice Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Sarath Chand spoke as a representative of the Indian Army before the parliamentary standing committee on defence. While commenting on new procurement policies he went on to add that: “The Budget of 2018-19 has dashed our hopes and most of what has been achieved has actually received a little setback.”The next Budget saw a further drop.
- Coming to power on a promise of One Rank One Pension, the Government has ended up denying the same and contesting the Veterans in court and a ‘Lathi Charge’ on those sitting at Jantar Mantar in a peaceful demonstration.
- Soon thereafter Officers ‘Entitled Rations ‘were stopped, only to be allowed later with representations against this and a ‘Notice’ to the Defence Secretary. CSD facilities curtailed, false claims made that Officers lived in palatial bungalows.
- Exploiting the army for political gains,reports suggested that the BJP has been using various social media platforms of the saffron party, with pictures of the PM Modi posing with army men with the caption, “He works for them. Stand with him to secure India. Support NAMO again in 2019.”
- On December 7, 2018, Lt Gen (Retd) D S Hooda, the Northern Army Commander when surgical strikes were out, said that there were accusations that the surgical strikes issue was politicised and that there was an “attempt to keep a purely military operation in the political domain by selective leaks of videos, photographs etc.”
- The release of NFU to all other central services, less the armed forces, led to major functional problems even within the service. An unrelenting government, left no option but to approach the courts. The case is now in its final stages in the Supreme Court. Seniority within the government of India, between different services is based on salary or grade pay, hence those junior in service, but obtaining a higher-grade pay, are deemed senior making it a major issue even within the armed forces after the release of the Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU).Civilians being paid from the defence budget, including the Military Engineering Service (MES), establishments like the DRDO, quality assurance, dockyards etc, who serve alongside the military suddenly jumped up notches, based on this additional package. This made working conditions within the service as also with the bureaucracy in Delhi difficult.
- The Seventh Pay Commission was the ultimate insult, for the first time in independent India the three service chiefs, rejected its implementation, despite directions from the defence minister.
- Eying Defence land, an effort is underway to open Cantonments and permit group housing where possible.
At the End of Patience
The situation began to change with the emergence of social media, enhanced awareness among the serving and veterans, increased role and projection of the Army in every sphere of national activity, either battling militancy in the Northeast or Kashmir, floods, earthquakes or even during civil disturbances and the present engagement with Pakistan as well as China have only helped enhance the respect for the concerns of the silent soldier.
The disappointment over the well-planned strategic degradation began to spread across the rank and file. While those serving remained quiet, as per their ethos, the veterans alongside the common Indian, whose respect for the armed forces continues unabated, jumped into the fray to challenge such unilateral and insulting actions.
For the bureaucracy, the only option to hammer the final nail to downgrade the military to a Group ‘B’ Service (from the Group A service it presently is). Letter No.1304/D(Mov)/2010 dated 12-5-2010 with respect to the Status/equation between service and civilian personnel for canteen smart cards wrongfully equates Majors with Section Officers and Lt Col. with Under Secretary (Lowest Group A Designation).
Aggrieved by the unauthorized, illegal, continuous and concerted down gradation of the status, and equivalence of Defense personnel viz their civilian counterparts; being covertly and overtly carried out, by Bureaucrats of various ministries - in complete contradiction to the Presidential notification of the Warrant dated 26th July 1979 (vide letter No.33-Pres/79,) which is based on the original Warrant of Precedence of 1937 veterans filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court seeking the restoration of the rightful status of Defence personnel as enshrined in the original Warrant of Precedence.
The Government of India and specifically the Defence Ministry and Army Headquarters would do well to introspect and review past decisions objectively keeping in mind the impact of such decisions on National Security. Our adversaries have also been keenly observing these aspects with merriment.
The following suggestions may be examined and taken up if they merit a second look:-
- Let the regular cadre continue as NDA/DE.
- SSC needs to be made more attractive, (reasons for lack of subscription to the vacancies be examined as brought out earlier).
- For this, we should consider:
i) Reverting back to the old system in vogue ;i.e. permitting SS Officers to appear in the central civil services exam, the syllabus be reduced as was the earlier case.
ii) The modalities could be worked out by a study. All SSC officers found fit for retention be given the option to sit for the exam in addition to those who do not opt for permanent /regular service. this should be in addition to those who are not fit to be retained or opt to leave
iii)They should be given time for study and lateral entry into IAS/IPS/CAPF.
iv) Those who do not opt for this option of Govt Service could be given Scholarship to study in Accredited Institutions for absorption into the Corporates
- Let NDA continue as hither to fore.
- All other entries be done based on a 'Single' Central Govt Services Exam to include IAS/IPS/CAPF and others, those who clear the exam and interview be put through a 5 Year Term in the Armed Forces before being reverted to their choice of service.
The Advantage of Option -2 being that we can fill up required numbers, get intelligent youth in, do away with the compartmentalised mind set of IAS etc being Superior and get the Armed Forces included in the mainstream as a national service. In the existing hostile neighbourhood and conflict of National Interests building a Strong Military Power is for India the only way forward.
(A veteran with 35 years of military experience under his belt, Brigadier Sharma, was commissioned into the JAT regiment. He has had rich exposure to the travails of the country in the remotest of areas. He has seen closely the happenings in J&K, Punjab, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram in operational circumstances. In addition, he has had the proud distinction of being, selected to raise the NSG and being a squadron commander with the 51 SAG, an Instructor in the Indian Military Academy, Colonel General Staff of an active division, Commander of a Brigade in super HAA, Directing Staff in Army War college, and the Brig Gen Staff responsible for facilitating the training in various Military Establishments including the School for Counter Insurgency & Terrorism & Jungle Warfare. He has been a member of study groups on China as well as Officer Cadre management in his time. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')
(Image Credit: Arjun Menon)