(Editor's Note: Former Resident Editor of Gomantak Times and seasoned defence journalist, Shashwat Gupta Ray 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'.)
I have been following the SSB selection debate for some time now. For someone who has experienced the SSB selection system upfront and cleared it in first attempt, including medical, I will say that the selection system is pretty well defined. Even the medical tests are very stringent.
I have seen batches of 60 getting washed out by the end of five-day tests despite the fact that the Army has a shortage of nearly 12,000 officers. The system needs to be however upgraded to have a greater focus on the mental aspect of the force's charter of duty.
Today we are living in an era of information warfare and low intensity conflicts in urban settlements. It would be great if the selection process has some situational reaction testing mechanism, where one gets to see real-time reaction of potential cadets in a pressurised situation, outside Group Task.
Instead of asking questions about the cadets and their reactions to certain situations by writing short descriptions or responding during interviews, make groups and create certain imaginary situations and see how they react.
The problem lies in the mushrooming of SSB coaching centers. The aspirants come tutored and perform as trained by these former Board members/presidents and hence there's no originality in thought process. Alongside the physical fitness aspect, it's important that the aspirants for the armed forces have a strong-willed mind and imaginative leadership.
This can't be assessed in the group task or psychology tests currently in place. One may add few other parameters to check for physical fitness like an endurance run, pushups, chin-ups and sprint.
But it's very important to observe how a certain individual reacts to given situation in a group. How these could be done to suit modern day conflict scenario that's something for the experts to decide. I have suggested some broad outline.
Even the perception of certain responses by Board members during interviews should also be revisited. When the Board is looking at the motivation levels of a candidate then why is it that a NCC SUO gets rejected 11 times? Why is that responses like wanting to serve the country turns off the Board members?
When a NCC 'B' or 'C' certificate holder gets rejected with such disdain, then how do you expect the feeder systems to supply you the raw material for officer cadre? What would be the motivation for anyone to excel in NCC if the cadet eventually will face rejection? I don't know about any other feeder system in the country that can produce better ready products for the forces than the NCC.
There's an overhauling required in the yardsticks that are present in the minds of the Board members. For this to happen, the members also should have some motivation. What is the reward for selecting potentially good candidates who go on to make the Force proud? It's generally believed that only those officers are sent as Board members or president who have been superseded or they are not going to rise higher.
It would be worthwhile to know how the Board members fared in their careers before or after their tenure in the SSB. Everyone needs a positive outcome as reward for their performance. If there's nothing in the system to appreciate the Board members, how and why they will go the extra mile to select the best possible cadets for the finishing schools?
The problem with us is that we look at everything in isolation. One must not forget that we live in a convergent society, where everything is interconnected. Once we understand this aspect of life, a lot of issues will eventually get resolved.
Let us not forget that this is the same system that has given this country countless bravest of the brave leaders to its armed forces. It has given Chiefs and formation commanders who have given great examples of astute leadership.
However, there's always a scope for improvement and as I said earlier, the selection process has to be tweaked keeping in mind the changing operational scenario.
About the Respondent
Shashwat Gupta Ray is the former Resident Editor of Gomantak Times and the founder of the YouTube channel 'Uncovering India'. He is a multiple award winning Defence Journalist and editor with over twenty years of experience under his belt during which he has reported from hotspots and conflict zones for reputed publications like the Press Trust of India (PTI), Tehelka and Sakal Times.
His work has been featured in books on extremism. He has been a strong pillar of support to the Victory India campaign and is a pioneering member. He has also trained up and coming defence journalists in the craft and been a visiting faculty in premier journalism schools