|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
The Indian Army (IA) is undergoing cadre restructuring. As per media, two officers per battalion are being reduced, totaling up to overall reduction of some 4,500 officers. In 1995, Japan’s Self Defense Forces went in for a 10 per cent manpower cut across the board, but fact was that for past several years this was a constant deficiency. In June 2019, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in a written reply to Rajya Sabha stated there were 45,634 vacancies in the Army as on January 1, 2019, including 7,399 officers. Factually past years, IA’s officer shortage has seldom gone below average of 7,000, even going up to 9,000 at times. So the claim that reducing officer strength by some 4,500 officers will save on pay and allowances of that many officers is much ado about nothing.
In any case IA is no more the preferred choice of youth for reasons well known: harsh service conditions and everyday risk to life; pay and perks lower than civil services and now even police forces; attractive pay and package in the corporate sector; lowering of precedence and prestige of soldiers; government antipathy towards Armed Forces, and; army hierarchy placing curbs on soldiers (which are not in Navy and IAF) and acting against interests of soldiers, disabled, widows and veterans to show allegiance towards government antipathy. Therefore, officer shortages will persist despite the Army spending some Rs 8 crore annually on publicity to attract youth. Other measure in cadre restructuring include: Direct Entry in IMA for officers is to be stopped - NDA entry only to provide Regular Officers; Short Service / OTA entry to be increased - only 25 per cent to be subsequently given Permanent Commission; Lt Col to Col promotions to be increased from current 35-38 per cent to about 55-60 per cent; Col to Brig promotions to be reduced from current 35-38 per cent to about 25-30 per cent; Brigadiers to be automatically promoted to Maj Gen after 2-3 years but both ranks of Brigs and Maj Gens to be placed in same Pay Level 14; Brigs ranks to be worn while commanding Brigades, serving in Tri-Service organisations, on deputation postings and foreign assignments; Time Scale (TS) Col for Non Empanelled (NE) Lt Cols in 23 years and TS Brig for NE Cols one year before their retirement; Staff Stream to start from Col onwards; about 20 per cent reduction of officers in Delhi, including four ADGs – only Cols and above to be posted to Army HQ in Delhi; most of Sub Area HQ to be abolished and responsibilities transferred to Corps HQ. These changes need to be viewed in the backdrop that NDA has not been receiving entrants to its full capacity. In fact, there are many cases of cadets opting out after joining NDA even if they are financially penalised. So we may be looking at more shortage of officers and still smaller percentage of permanent commissioned officers vis-ŕ-vis Short Service officers.
Direct Entry in IMA provides entry to youth of higher age group who decide to join Army over other professions. This entry helps contribute to filling training capacity of IMA. Examination of performance of Direct Entry officers would indicate they have performed equally well as others, albeit some query why only NDA entry officers are promoted to Army Chief? Brigadiers are to be automatically promoted to Maj Gen after 2-3 years service, with both remaining on same pay band. But with Col to Brig promotions reduced from current 35-38 per cent to about 25-30 per cent, the pyramid may become more acute vis-ŕ-vis other services, especially civilian-defence officers, posing greater inter-se functional problems. Army needs long-term policy on Sub Areas. First these were upgraded to Maj Gen command and expanded, and now “most” are being shut, which may create multiple problems. Most Sub Areas are deeply involved in land issues including encroachments. Abolishing Sub Areas will benefit squatters and encroachers, most being politicians and politically connected builder mafia. It is no secret that careers of Sub Area Commanders who initiated action against encroachments were sealed and prematurely moved out by the powerful mafia. Shutting down Sub Areas would naturally also benefit politician wannabes, especially those who helped their closure since opening cantonment properties to private players has enormous vote-bank potential. With former Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s move to grab defence land, how can Corps HQ be expected to deal with acquiring the in lieu land being offered hundreds of km away when existing Sub Areas are unable to do so even nearby? For example, Raipur Sub Area has not been able to acquire land offered for the Special Forces Training School past decade plus. Veterans appear to have become outcasts for the army hierarchy but veterans, widows and serving soldiers on leave, do need to liaise with Sub Area HQ for many of their problems. It is not clear which are the “most” Sub Areas are being closed but for example if Dehradun Sub Area is shut, are these individuals expected to travel to the Corps HQ at Ambala to resolve their problems? The issue clearly needs deeper examination. Cadre restructuring for JCOs and soldiers includes: 3rd Cadre Restructuring of JCOs/OR already approved by Government - additional vacancies for JCOs & NCOs sanctioned by government to be absorbed over five years commencing 2020; about 15-20 soldiers per unit to be reduced - overall reduction of about one lakh in the standing strength; recruitment training period not to be counted as service for promotions/pensions; almost every soldier to get promoted to Naik in about 14 years of physical service; those unwilling for promotions/ failing in promotion cadres not be given Modified Assured Career Progression (MACP), and; those getting re-employed in DSC not to be given second pension.
The reduction of about 15-20 soldiers in every unit may look small but needs to be seen in conjunction soldiers on leave, courses, temporary duty and hosts of attachments with various formation headquarters. More importantly, every time statistics are shared with Parliament, Army’s manpower shortages invariably are 40,000-45,000 with statements that these will be made up by recruits under training. Somehow this gap has never been filled. So while we are reducing manpower by 1,00,000, the deficiency of 40,000-45,000 is near constant which affects fighting units, considering army’s engagements in counter insurgency and India’s 15,106 km land borders.