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Army Besieged:FACES BIG SHORTAGE OF OFFICERS, by Syed Ali Mujtaba,16 March 2010 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 16 March 2010

Army Besieged



By Syed Ali Mujtaba


The approval of the Union Government to open a second Officers' Training Academy (OTA) at Gaya in Bihar marks a major step to solve the problem of shortage of officers in the country. The new academy will function on similar lines as the one that exists in Chennai. Initially the new Officers Training Academy at Gaya will commence the training of 250 cadets, but in due course of time it will be upgraded to its full design capacity to train 750 short-service commission officers annually.


At present the Indian Army has two training institutions-- one, is the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun that annually churns out permanent commission officers. The other is the Short Service Commission officers that come out of the Officers Training Academy at Chennai. 


The IMA gets its cadets from the tri-Service National Defence Academy (NDA) at Khadakwasla, which is open to youngsters after class XII, as well as through the `direct entry' route open to college graduates. The Officers Training Academy, however, is open to college graduates and is struggling for students. In both the institutions students have to clear a very comprehensive test and this includes a physical endurance test.  


As part of their force-restructuring to maintain a young profile and attract bright youngsters to their fold, the Armed forces are gradually moving towards substantially increasing the number of short service commission officers in their ranks.  The change in intake pattern will eventually lead to one is to two ratio for Permanent Commission to Short Service Commission officers.


The IMA currently has a capacity to train 950 officers per year, while the OTA trains around 500 officers. The capacity at both these academies is also being expanded to train an additional 100 cadets each every year. However, the NDA that enlists high school graduates and trains them into officers for the Navy, Air Force and the Army, is struggling to find recruitments.  The Defence Ministry records show just 190 students signed up this month as against the Academy's sanctioned strength of 300.


Incidentally, almost all the three wings of the Armed forces in the country are short of officers. The Indian Army is short of around 11,400 officers, the Navy of 1,500 officers and the Air Forces is grappling with a shortage of about 1,400-odd men.


The shortage of the defence force officers becomes conspicuous when we cross-check shortages of the officers with those of its prescribed strength. While the Army has an authorized strength of 46,614 officers, the Air Force has 12,136, whereas the Navy’s strength is of 8,797 officers.


Sadly, the Army, the world's fourth largest, is failing to attract enough youngsters with “officer-like qualities'' for its 1.13-million strong Army. In addition, the Army is facing a massive exodus from its ranks, with more and more officers opting for premature retirement. This shortage of officers is blamed on stress, low pay, slow promotions and the military's tough lifestyle.


Even though the salary of the Armed forces have substantially increased after the 6th Pay Commission, the youngsters still find it less compared to the private sector. This consideration is put forth especially when one takes into the account of the life of a soldier which is tough and risky.


Additionally, the Army has severe promotional bottlenecks. After entering the Army, an entry level officer must wait up to 10 years before donning the flashes of a lieutenant-colonel. But even at that level the monthly basic salary does not exceed much. The other contributing factors are poor promotional avenues and frequent transfers that disrupt family life of the officers.


The traditional catchments area like such as Punjab and Rajasthan for recruitment of Army officers have apparently gone dry.  Most of the families that have strong soldiers background have stopped sending their wards to the Amy schools and are keen to send them abroad, which obviously has  hampered the steady flow of the officers in the Military service. 


This apart, it is the lack of interest of the Anglo-Indian and Muslim communities in joining the Army that has resulted into further shortage of the officers. If we check the old records and compare theses with the recent ones the total desertions of these two communities from the Armed forces is glaring.


We may like it or not, but corruption has entered into the Armed forces as well. Many talented recruits feel that patriotism and valour, the two cardinal features of the deference services, are increasingly being compromised with corruption seeping into its ranks. This could also be one of the factors that keeps them away from the defense services.


Other than the deficiencies in the Army itself, the shortage of officers is also a result of the booming private sector managing to recruit the best talent.  The private sector, which has been luring away India's best talent by offering hefty wages and generous perks and the government and the services, simply cannot compete in matters of salary and perks with the corporate world.


Interestingly, the Armed forces have enormous opportunities available outside the services. According to the defence ministry's Directorate of Resettlement, a third of the 3,000 officers who retire annually enlist in top Indian business schools. And the corporate world welcomes retiring military recruits with open arms.


This has left the military with poor pickings. Most of those applying are not the right material. Experts feel that the deficiencies should not be met by lowering the quality standards of the world's largest voluntary army.


India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan and a bloody border skirmish with China since its Independence, has never turned to compulsory recruitment, as it is in countries like Israel. But such a move could be an option before the Government. While it claims that it has not given this aspect much thought, the possibility cannot be ruled out in the future. However, skeptics feel that conscription is not the answer to the problem because it may lead to indiscipline, waywardness and desertions.  


Nonetheless the recruitment issue has become an urgent priority for the Army after 3,000 mid-level commanders recently sought early retirement on top of an existing shortage of 11,200 officers. In all, it needs a total of 46,615 officers. How this anomaly is going to be resolved needs to be seen in the new policies that are going to be evolved by the government in the course of time. The only consolation is that thanks to India's billion-plus population and high unemployment, the 1.23-million-strong Army has no shortages in the lower ranks.---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)





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