Selection and Role of NDA Academic Staff

The June 2018 CBI raids at NDA Khadakwasla and filing of a FIR against the Principal and few members of academic teaching staff for submitting false documents in support of their qualifications, has stirred the hornets nest, triggering this MVI debate

Selection and Role of NDA Academic Staff


The recent (June 2018) CBI raids at NDA, Khadakwasla and filing of FIR against the Principal and few members of academic teaching staff for submitting false documents in support of their qualifications for employment/appointment in various posts in academic department at NDA during 2012 prove that something is grossly wrong with the system of selection and appointment of the academic teaching staff and calls for the immediate review with the involvement of all concerned agencies, viz; NDA, HQ IDS/CISC, COSC, MOD and UPSC.

Air Vice Mshl Arjun Subramaniam (Retd) wrote on this subject triggered after the CBI raids, available on the net. Ironically, this subject and several other issues, pertaining to NDA have been in the print media very often for past 5-6 years, during which a campaign called ‘Victory India’ for the improvement of the quality of our military leadership at all levels not only took birth but has widely spread in the environment with full knowledge and awareness of our three services and all concerned training institutions and selection agencies.

Four volumes published during 2013, 14, 16 and 18 of the ‘Victory India Campaign’ by Pentagon Press, New Delhi, encapsulating 175 articles, essays, papers, letters and responses by over sixty (60) military contributors and academicians have amply and elaborately covered this issue and the entire system of selection, training and grooming of military officers, including NDA, and the current issue confronting them.


Article below has throws up several critical issues on the existing system of selection and highlights the imperative need to review and revise this system with a view to improve the quality of academic staff and consequently the quality of the academics of the cadets, which has obviously suffered for many years and adversely affected the quality of the cadets fed to the finishing academies and loss to the three services.

Kindly examine the points now raised in the article in the backdrop of the Victory India Campaign reference material and forward your responses with views, comments and recommendations to address the issue which has once again brought NDA into media focus, unfortunately for the wrong reasons.


Air Cmde Suryakant Bal (Retd), ex-DS CDM

If the CBI has to conduct raids to uncover malpractices in the selection of academic staff, then the entire system has failed – all the checks and counter checks. No individual involved in the selection process can offer an excuse. Every system has checks and counter-checks and any system is as effective as it is allowed to be. What has happened is a reflection of the general situation in society.

However, that does not make a valid case for the military to follow such trends. We must stand tall and be above board – not an easy task, but not an impossible one either. The rot has to be stopped, from the ground up. Any deviation has to be managed ruthlessly – and without pity. For the military, this is a debt of honour – to the nation. The nation is supreme, and anyone who does not fall in line must be ruthlessly eliminated.

Cdr Ravindra Pathak (Retd), ex-Sqn Cdr NDA

The whole system at the NDA started to crumble the day the emphasis shifted more towards academics. I have been a cadet at NDA and as a squadron Cdr. My experience has been of deterioration of standards since 1982 when I was a faculty there. I was fortunate to still have some of the stalwart civilian instructors from cadet’s days around but I was also unfortunate to see the new breed of civilians who stood distinctly apart as nondescript. The author is right there are no iconic figures today at NDA from among the civilian staff.

We had a mathematics instructor who would sum up the entire purpose of the existence of the NDA in his statement, “Gentleman you are here to become soldiers and not mathematicians.” I do feel that soldiering and academic are two entirely different aspects of a military man’s life. Many scholars at NDA did not become good soldiers but many not so good in studies at NDA went on to achieve high ranks and excellent academic qualifications later in life.

NDA was set up so that it became the single institute where bonds were built from among course mates and NDA alumni for better inter service functionality. I am not sure if that aim has been entirely met but to me more fundamentally NDA converted boys into men in the 3 years one spent there. Academics was then considered secondary. To this end the entire staff at NDA was responsible and the staff–cadet interaction was phenomenal.

As science progressed and modern equipment came into services the need was probably felt to change intake level to a higher age. I do feel that was the biggest mistake that was made as by then the incoming cadet had seen some life and it then became more difficult to mould him into a soldier. The need for higher education with changing times was inevitable but the stage at which this would start was probably wrong.

One can always impart that higher education post NDA. As it is there are enumerable examples of NDA cadets without a degree who excelled in technical field and rose to highest level in the technical branches and even went on to become Professor Emeritus (Research) of Engineering Marconi Society Fellow Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University.

It is this shift to higher science oriented education at NDA level and the need to ensure that the cadets got a degree that led to ingress of university culture in NDA. This brought about external interference in the running of the education in NDA and then scholarly professors and academicians with PhD and MPhil who could contribute to the academic side of the cadet’s life but not character building. Icons vanished and there were no role models left.

The experience of years of moulding a cadet with total dedication was lost and you merely had people whose sole job was to teach and thus the outlook changed more towards the cadet’s academic excellence rather than his overall growth. The solution lies probably in going back to the old system of appointing civilian instructors rather than academics alone and lay emphasis on converting the boy into a man with some basic knowledge of military related subjects. Now that he comes with science background he can always pursue higher education in his later life as and when required.

One must look at the fact that no academician became a soldier but many soldiers went on to become an academician.

Nixon Fernando, ex-Lecturer & Counselor NDA

The NDA should stop making soldiers and start making leaders and statesmen. Soldiers they will become when they go to their respective pre-commissioning academies (IMA/INA/AFA) and later on in their units/squadrons/ships. But to be useful leaders in the modern era they should be intellectually head and shoulders above the men by the way of their education, and they must be scholars who can match wits with the best in the world; soldiers none the less !

The issues raised by Cdr Ravindra Pathak has already been debated threadbare in the Victory India Series. Consider the following points and the thinking will become clear.

  • The first principal was handpicked by PM Nehru. Was a known educationist at the high school level. The aim was to groom the native Indian cadets to have adequate sophistication to be able to lead a British Indian Army. This principal (gentleman) was not an Indian.
  • The other civilians inducted were paid a salary, 1.5 times, an equivalent instructor received outside (they did this by giving a NDA special allowance of Rs 150 ,that was equivalent to if not more than the entry basic salary for instructors) NDA got the cream of educationists available in the country.
  • The experience from the wars (62, 65 and 71) was that officers who were injured were at a disadvantage in being absorbed in civilian life because they did not have a basic educational degree. It was decided that Officers should have at least a basic degree and that was why it was introduced in the NDA in the early 70s.
  • This brought in a new thinking into the NDA and my HOD used to say ‘'I am here for Physics, nothing else'’. So the ‘grooming’ part was gone. Apparently, that mathematics teacher was the new breed. He should have instead said, “Mathematics is not about the subject, it is about the abilities that are instilled in your mind when you study mathematical techniques.”
  • The pay and perks of the officers did not get upgraded with time. It was not even on par with other institutions. One officer who came to NDA, found that his teaching 12th class students  was a far better proposition and more rewarding  and went  back from where he came.
  • The pay and perks position was messy for some time and there was politics, skirmishes with the uniformed fraternity and among the faculty themselves. Ultimately the UGC scale was accepted for academicians in the academy and NDA made on par with any other college.
  • When  the story of the 2007 recruitment unfolded, the terms of recruitment were altered in such a way that the older lot of the NDA  could not apply because while the best of them were participating in the NDA activities related to cadet grooming, they were neglecting their academic research. The new rules asked for research credentials and the old timers did not have it.

The problem is that like Cdr Ravindra there are many others who simply believe that education amounts to nothing. The point is that NDA is supposed to represent ‘excellence’, but rather you are insisting on paying on parity if not peanuts to educators. The Special NDA allowance of Rs150 remained the same for close to half a century.

It was upgraded as late as in the 21st century and that too to some paltry amount. You are aiming for the mind set of foot soldiers rather than leaders of a modern military. Make up your mind. Do you want the vision of Cdr Ravindra or of Air Mshl Arjun Subramaniam?

And in the meanwhile if it is 70% education, let it be 70% education. If it is not good change it the other way round. But this idea of saying something on paper and doing something else on ground puts a weak foundation in the minds of future leaders. I am sure a sound education is required for our cadets, to set up the intellectual base on which they can build for sure. The arts must be introduced substantially to the science people and vice versa so that a more holistic leader can emerge.

Scientific thinking and a humanist appreciation of life are both required for good leadership in the modern age. And this has to be done with the same passion with which an excellent sportsman, artist, soldier pursue their respective interests. Bring in the best of instructors. Say that the NDA is a temple of modern India and demand that its instructors be paid a significant step higher than his equivalents outside. It is a way of recognizing that the instructor in NDA is to deliver a notch above the rest.

Truly speaking even a small change in attitude in the environment of the NDA can make even the civilian officers deliver their 100%. Give them a broad canvass to work on and you will see how they rise up to the challenge. Give them a small tiny space and they will shrink to fit into it. But yes, when an individual becomes free of the external and is committed to excellence from within he will shine come what may and may leave the academy if he finds it too stifling. The best of them just go into their shell as time goes by.

And as Dr Ali, the outstanding HOD of Foreign Languages department replied in his sendoff speech, when asked if he had the chance to come back to the NDA. “No” was his answer. “People with lesser promise and credentials than me did much better outside,” he said. This temple of modern India is in a mess. It will take another Jawaharlal Nehru to put it on track.

Gp Capt TP Srivastava (Retd), 38 NDA, ex-Instructor CAW

We in the military have become adept at re-inventing the wheel and missing woods for trees. We deliberate on ‘effect’ part with amazing brilliance as post event specialists. Let us look back. Our course saw two commandants; AVM SN Goel, a Yoga enthusiast 45 years before Swami Ramdev, and served as Commandant for three years. Rear Admiral RN Batra served for 38 months, i.e. after our passing out on 6th June, 1970.

Let us look nearer times; Arjun has brought out, albeit with tongue in cheek, that NDA commandant post is a mere ‘parking’ for a three star. Our eccentricity with ‘tenure’ for each service has destroyed and continues to destroy vital institutions/appointments. My info is not complete but I would like to be educated on as to how many commandants have completed three year tenure as commandant during the past 40 years. Each service changes at least two, if not three individuals as commandants during its turn.

Worse is the fact that a three star not considered fit to hold appointments in field/service HQ is shunted to NDA. No wonder then that the outstanding institution of yesteryears is facing issues that will/are impinging on the very existence and quality of training. An indifferent and/or poorly motivated Commandant, who reaches Khadakvasala as a ‘brides maid’ in waiting can do very little towards making the institution regain its lost glory.

Do we have it in us to appoint, a genuinely motivated officer and make him stay for three years as Commandant? Sadly the answer would be no. Why then are we cribbing? Self-inflicted injuries have no cure.

Prof SP Sharma, ex-HOD (English), NDA

Till 2007, selection of civilian professors was done by NDA and they were selected as Assistant Professor, the lowest rung and grew in the system getting promoted to Associate Professor, Professor and Head of Department. They were true ex-NDAs who followed NDA ethos and values. Cadets loved them as they were involved in all activities of cadets.

In 2007, the selection responsibility was given to UPSC and done directly to Principal, HOD, Professor, etc., as vacancy occurred. So, suddenly people landed up who were totally new to NDA and viewed it as a college. Earlier Lecturer/Assistant Professors were recruited through UPSC. Readers/Professors were selected in-house.

I spent 30 years as faculty member and retired as Prof and HOD (English). Service Chiefs have been my boys. The damage was done when a rank outsider was hoisted on NDA who wasn’t qualified to teach any subject in our syllabus. He wasn’t concerned about the NDA or the faculty.

Col PK ‘Royal’ Mehrishi (Retd), ex-59 NDA, Sikh LI

Recent raid by CBI at NDA and subsequent questioning of the Principal Mr OP Shukla for fraud & falsifying documents is part of a greater malaise that has stricken the premier institution now with certain regularity. Gone are the days of stalwarts like Prof Kuldip Singh, Prof Bhatnagar, Prof Rajan and their ilk. Now there are civilian Instructors who have problems with spellings and the English language (the medium of instruction).

There are Permanent Instructors who stay within the campus and ad hoc ones who commute from Pune to teach and rush back home without getting much involved in the Academy routine, thus having little or no affiliation with the cadets or the academy.

UPSC has no stake in the quality of instructors that are desirable for a premier institution like NDA. Matters have come to light where money has exchanged hands for posting Associate Professors to this Institution. A general deterioration of standards for pecuniary benefits.

To aggravate the problem, the posting of Commandants from either of the service wings at times takes months with the post left vacant for long. Once a Commandant is in place, he has his own ideas to run the curriculum thus negating continuity and hampering the academic eco-system.

Corruption has also been an issue, with one previous Commandant facing a barrage of corruption charges in the recruitment of class IV employees. Imagine the dichotomy wherein the cadets are being taught values of a ‘gentleman’ and an ‘officer’, but the head of the same institution is under a cloud facing charges of corruption. Follow the rules when you are a junior, break them at will when a senior. I agree with the recommendation of AVM Arjun Subramaniam (we are Course- mates NDA/59).

Have a military academic dean or head who scrutinizes the intake of civilian instructors and maybe head hunts them from across universities in the country. There is no room for any ad hocism (that includes ad hoc instructors). Academic education and training are two different streams of learning. Let my Guru be my leading light!

Dr Syed Ehsan Ali, ex-HoD, Foreign Languages

The selection of NDA academic staff as rightly mentioned has all along been done through UPSC.  Besides UPSC chairman/member, subject expert etc., there used to be a representative of services who would interview and find the suitability of the candidate they were to select for NDA. Though there was a post graduate degree required as a minimum qualification, credit was given to the sports, extracurricular activities of the candidates. I was selected as a lecturer at 22 yrs plus without any PhD (there were two PhD candidates for the same post).

Prof AN Jha (former VC of Allahabad University) committee had drafted a very comprehensive syllabus for NDA. There used to be a cross stream subject for science as well as arts students, and learning of a foreign language and culture as a part of syllabus was yet another unique vision. NDA lecturers were offered a superior pay scale compared to their counterparts in Indian universities and colleges till about late sixties. But gradually it was reversed. The NDA academic staff was required to stay on the campus and be available for duty right from 0600hrs to 2300 hrs at times.

They were not recruited to merely teach their subject but were detailed for duties connected with the overall training of NDA cadets. Many of us performed the duties of OIC games, hobby clubs, referred matches, be official in sports, members of various boards and help cadets in extracurricular activities such as organising cultural evening programmes  etc.

It was all working well till NDA was affiliated to JNU which started putting UGC conditions for award of degrees, recruitment policy for NDA staff. NDA demanded UGC scales, slightly superior to the existing NDA scale. Till then there used to be only lecturers and a Head of the Department as a Reader. In my personal opinion, that was not in the interest of this premier institution. NDA should have asked for an independent deemed university status.

Out of the then 9 faculty departments, only six professors’ posts were sanctioned for NDA. Three depts. viz. Foreign Languages, Hindi and Workshop were declared minor subjects, hence to be headed by a Reader only. This was in total contradiction of UGC rules and not followed by any college or university where the entire subject taught are given same status.

MoD could NOT convene any DPC between 1981 and 1989, for more than 8 long years which affected most of the NDA lecturers adversely. Some of the faculty members, very talented and dedicated to their duties had to superannuate without a single promotion at NDA.

Dr Verma, Reader I/C Social Sciences was promoted to the post of NDA Principal, in late sixties but after him the senior most NDA Reader Mr GD Bhavnani was not promoted, could only officiate as principal and after him all the Principals were recruited directly from purely civil background colleges, ignoring several, very competent, highly dedicated and fully involved insiders. The practice continues till date.

Mr Keswani was well known in NDA as a ‘civilian Adjutant’. Even after having served this great institution for nearly 38 years, having seen 75 courses pass out (26th to 100 course), my wife looking after NDA welfare center and working as Treasurer for NDA Ladies club for over 18 years we have truly learnt the ‘Art of good living’ at the NDA, much more of pleasantries to relish than a few adversities. Long Live NDA, god help it regain its glory as seen by us.

Concluding Remarks

Gp Capt Johnson Chacko (Retd), ex-Bn Cdr NDA, Instructor CDM

I was posted as the Battalion Commander at NDA from 2001 to 2003. I asked my seniors as to what I am expected to do. I couldn’t get a reply that satisfied me. So the thinking process started. I analysed the system of training, why it is being done and how NDA grooms leaders for the Armed Forces fit to lead the soldiers in the Army up to Platoon level, in the navy to lead sailors at the lower level and in the Air Force for no particular reason, as ex-NDAs are not expected to lead airmen till they become Wing Commanders!

NDA has been termed as the ‘Cradle for Military Leadership’. There are various types of leadership that was taught to me while undergoing the Long Defence Management Course at the College of Defence Management. NDA trains ‘Situational Leadership’. What is required to be taught for this type of leadership? This leadership is needed by almost all leaders for success in a situation. Leaders are expected to lead a team or group or whatever comprising of men and women.

The leader needs to be aware of the situation that his team is in, ideate as to how to overcome the situation in favour of his team using the skill sets of the members of the team and execute it to achieve success. In a military situation that is victory. A leader provides one victory to his team and his team will follow him wherever he takes them. This principle is valid for any domain.

To lead them, the foremost requirement is to analyze the ‘situation’ that the team is in. This can be termed as ‘Situational Awareness’. He needs to grasp this in quick time in military situations. Academics broaden his horizon and enable him in this context. Ideation is also extremely important and without academic exposure he will be found wanting. Analysing the skill sets or strengths and weaknesses of his team members also needs analytical skills that are honed by academics.

Outdoor training enhances the physical capability of the trainee to the level that is required to perform the expected tasks at par or even better than the soldier. Besides these character building, directing the morals and ethics are also very important and I found myself heading this branch of training by real time corrections through Squadron Commanders and Divisional Officers.

The overall development of leadership abilities also fell under my purview. Giving a pat on his back when he does well, shifting it slightly lower; converting it to a kick when he doesn't and knowing the difference was also under my realm.

There is no classroom exposure to leadership of any consequence. True leadership is learned by the Cadets on the playing fields of NDA. Innumerable number of situations is created for the Cadets where he can excel in all the aspects stated above in the form of competitions. This was also monitored by my staff and the Cadets are told where they have gone wrong so that they can improve. Unfortunately, even academics and physical training has been converted to competitions to transfer the onus of training to the senior cadets who are not adept as trainers or educators.

Every branch has its role to play and there are shortcomings in every branch. Academic branch has come into limelight recently. We need to study the present policy and compare it the older policy of selection and recruitment of the staff and pay them well, at least 1.5 times of what is given to other college staff so that he grows with the institution.

There are scholarly Armed Forces Veterans with tremendous administrative experience who are Vice Chancellors of Universities and I wonder why similar officers are not inducted for the Principal's post. Is research mandatory for the academic staff to impart education? Why saddle him with that? As per ancient Indian wisdom, an educated person is supposed to be a useful member of the society and is expected to be the fountainhead of knowledge.

As a Flight Commander who had about 12 flying instructors and 36 Flight Cadets I have done it. In the briefing, which is attended by both the Flight Cadets and the instructors, I announced that any Flight Cadet who has a doubt in any subject in aviation is free to ask his instructor and instructor will not punish him but provide the answer.

If he does not get clarity, he is free to ask me at any time, day or night. If I don’t know the answer, I will find out and let him know. The knowledge level of the instructors shot up and professionalism went sky high as reveled by the subsequent tests conducted by external examiners.

The spirit of inquisitiveness has guided me to derive a mathematical formula worthy of a patent, as there was no Guru. This may answer the question asked by Brigadier General Andrew Armacost, Dean of USAFA to AVM Arjun Subramaniam. The British system of education imposed on us is not delivering the required results as it is based on ‘One size fits all’. Syllabus is defined and the Cadet has to go through that syllabus.

His passion to excel in the field that he wants to has no consideration. The condition that he has to be a graduate has been imposed for his re-employment in a second career. Why make it co-terminus with his passing out date? He can continue to graduate in a few years after his commissioning. We need to reduce pressure on him at NDA so that his scholarly abilities can bloom.

Military history should be a mandatory core subject as history does not repeat itself to people who know history and it will be essential for future Officers in the profession of arms. Technology can assist him, especially the operational aspects but that by itself does not make him a warrior. Subject of his passion should be the second subject that he should be enabled to pursue as he can fall back on it if he cannot continue his career as a warrior.

The members of the academic staff at NDA need to be fountainheads of knowledge with vast knowledge and specialization in his subject, capable of quenching the thirst for knowledge of the Cadets. It goes without saying that the pay scales should be good to attract the best and retain them. Besides qualifications, attitude is very, important. Attitude can be gauged only by those in the institution over a period of time.

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

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