Mission Victory India (MVI) spoke to Lieutenant General (Dr.) D.B Shekatkar (Retd), the Chairman of the Shekatkar committee, an expert committee constituted at the behest of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 2016 under the directions of late Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. The committee was set up to recommend a series of defence reforms, which were to be submitted in its report in December 2016.
The report, with 99 recommendations is now the magna carta for ongoing defence reforms in the country. The complete recommendations of the Shekatkar committee have never been revealed to the public as it deals with operational aspects of the tri-services, a complete disclosure of which would jeopardies India’s national security interests.
This interview looks into one particular recommendation made in the report which was the closure of the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR), the Delhi based Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) lab responsible for conceiving and running the Services Selection Board (SSB); the tri-services officer selection system. A system maintained by the selection board as “hallowed and beyond reproach.”
Yet, the recent widely reported ‘SSB Selection Scandal’ in which a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe found 17 Indian Army personnel, including five Lieutenant Colonels and two Major-ranked officers apart from six others implicated in the scandal, and has called into question the efficacy of the officer selection system.
Excerpts from the Interview…
Q. How and when did the present DIPR based SSB selection system for armed forces officer candidates come into being? Do you believe that it has lived up to its mission?
Ans: The DIPR, SSB System came up as a result of 1962 War. The British system was functioning mostly to assess the loyalty, dependability, integrity of the candidates who came to the SSB for selection. Britishers had no doubt about the combat capability of Indians. However, over the period of time the requirement of the armed forces have changed with the evolving environment. Our leadership in the armed forces, the bureaucracy never bothered to re-assess the requirements. It would have been foolish to expect any interest in the political leadership, especially the MoD.
Our experience of the 1965 and 1971 wars also emphasised on combat capability. There have been changes in leadership qualities required in the 21st century. My First PhD in Management Science deals with the thesis ‘Leadership Qualities Required to Succeed in 21st Century’. Did the DRDO's, DIPR, ever think on these lines? Character, dependability, concerns for our rank and files became more important. We never bothered to consider the attitude and behaviour of vulnerable leaders. We never seemed to be concerned over ethical issues amongst our leaders in both government, governance, and the armed forces.
The DIPR has totally failed in perception management and we are now paying for the failure. We will continue to fail, and the nation will suffer. We also failed to assess the impact of changes in our society and its impact on the armed forces. After all our fighting and administrative echelons as well as officer cadres come from our society only.
Q. Your report mentioned the closure of the DIPR. What was the rationale behind this recommendation made and what alternatives would you propose to replace the over seven-decade old SSB system?
Ans: We examined all these issues and came to the conclusions that the Delhi based DRDO lab, DIPR and SSBs have totally failed. Therefore we recommended closure and revamping of the DIPR. Today psychologists are available outside as well. We can hire and fire them based on their performance which should be assessed by the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) with is headed by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The CDS is there to take care of all the services. It is also for this reason that we felt that the DRDO should be accountable and answerable to the CDS.
Q. Has the SSB system been functionally linked with the diverse tri-service training requirements and can it realistically hope to meet end user requirements of all the three services separately?
The Indian Army for instance has various ‘arms’ and ‘services’ which require varying levels of aptitudes, temperaments, training requirements etc. How then can the increasingly diverse human resource needs of the military be effectively catered towards?
Ans: The present system is linked to the tri-services however the requirements of the Indian Army (IA) Indian Navy (IN) and Indian Airforce (IAF) are distinct. The air force for instance is a platform and technology-driven organisation; therefore, it is officer oriented. Furthermore, a fighter aircraft pilot has to have different psyche and temperament than say a transport pilot or a helicopter pilot. Similarly, Army Aviation Corps (AAC) pilots need a different mindset. In contrast to the IAF the IA is a manpower-oriented organisation. Man-management and killing instinct are the main criteria in the army.
Q. Does the present SSB system cater for checking unique service specific aptitudes?
Ans: No sir, how many times have the SSB psychologists and other assessors visited hard field areas like the Line of Control (LoC) Line of Actual Control (LAC), Siachen Glacier and Kargil etc to expertly judge the mental framework of Young Officers (YO), and especially our cutting edge going up to Colonels.
Q. If the DIPR was recommended to be closed down why is it still continuing to operate, what are the hurdles to its closure?
Ans: The Shekatkar Committee made these recommendations based on our study and interactions. To implement the recommendations requires guts, a sense of belonging and concern towards funds. The DRDO’s aim is just to survive, retire and get handsome pension all their life. Do they bother about anything else??
Q. Recent media reports highlight that the SSB is far from infallible. Keeping that into mind, what are your observations on the degree of objectivity and level of transparency in the SSB procedure?
Is the system fair to prospective candidates aspiring to the join the defence services as officers or doing passionate and capable young aspirants a disservice?
Ans: All officers who were involved in recent case of SSB corruption and malpractices have come up through SSB system. They are a product of the same system they tried to hoodwink. How could they bluff the entire set up and system? All those implicated in the officer selection scandal, right from the Group Testing Officers (GTO), the psychologists, the doctors, and medical staff etc must be held responsible and punished severely in order to set an example. It is high time the government, governance and military leadership wakes up to prevent future disasters.
(This interview is the first part of an ongoing series on Officer Selection Reforms in the Indian Armed Forces. Views expressed are the respondents own, and do not neccessarily reflect the editorial views 'Mission Victory India)
About the Interviewee
Lieutenant General (Dr.) Shekatkar (Retd) is a scholar-warrior with a slew of academic distinctions ranging from a B.Com., M.Sc. and M.Phil in Defence Studies, Ph.D in Management Science, Ph.D in Defence & Strategic Studies. He is pursuing his third PhD in Psychological Warfare, Post Graduate Diploma in Ecology and Environment, Post Graduate Diploma in Weapons and Equipment Management, Awarded Paul Harris Fellowship by Rotary International.
He has served in Indian Army for four decades. Participated in India-Pakistan war in 1965 in Kashmir. In 1971 in Western Theatre. During Kargil war in 1999 he was in charge of the entire China front in Arunachal Pradesh. He was in charge of border management with China in Arunachal Pradesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, and part of border with Bangladesh. He served extensively in North East combating insurgency in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and other areas.
He served in Operation Bluestar and later, combated terrorism as a Brigadier in Punjab, as Major General in Kashmir and as Lt Gen in Assam and other parts of North East India. He has experience of controlling communal violence in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. He served at Army Headquarters, New Delhi as Deputy Director General of Military operations (dealing with China and East Asia), as Additional Director General of Military operations and as Director General of Perspective (Strategic) planning.
He served as member of “Joint Working Group” dealing with India-China boundary and other disputes. He also served as member of “Expert Group” dealing with boundary dispute. He was member of drafting team of Peace and Tranquility Agreement signed during Prime Ministership of Narsimha Rao. He has participated in negotiations with China on boundary issues. Also, with Pakistan on the Siachen Glacier issue. He was member of India-USA Defence Cooperation and Strategic Partnership initiatives. He forced a record number of terrorists in Kashmir (1267) trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan to give up terrorism and lead a normal life.
Some of his most notable achievements and engagements include being conferred the Vishisht Seva Medal in 1981, the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal in 1997, the Param Vishisht Seva Medal in 2002. Furthermore, he has Co-authored 16 books on Security, Terrorism, Internal Security, and Intelligence. One book has been published in USA by Centre for American and Global Security, Indiana University, Bloomington. He presided over the Expert Committee (also called as Shekatkar Committee) of Government of India to Re-orient India’s Defence Mechanism and Re-balancing of Defence Budget.
After retirement he served as Chair Professor in Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Pune and Advisor Symbiosis University Pune. He is National President of Forum for Integrated Security of India. (FINS). He is Distinguished Fellow at The Centre for Joint Warfare (CENJOWS) New Delhi. He is associated with Large Number of Academic Institutions in Advisory Council and Governing Councils. He devotes his time and energy to prepare the young generation to face challenges of 21st Century.