The author assesses the proposed changes to the Indian Army’s recruitment and manning patterns in this two-part commentary.
At the outset, a misnomer must be set aside: that the entire Indian Army will be manned on the proposed ‘Tour of Duty’ (ToD) terms and conditions. Some analysts have even interpreted it as conscription; but that is not possible with our population base and the perpetual need for a professional army.
Apart from officers, the ToD system is also proposed for a limited number of jawans. In their case, the proposal is more for savings in the budget since there is no shortage in quality and no existing deficiency such as the one in the officer cadre. A soldier on a three-year contract as against one for 17 years will obviously have far lesser investment and no obligations for pension and gratuity, which translates to an average lifetime saving of INR 11.5 crores. It will also lead to better promotional avenues for the permanent cadre of soldiers below officer rank since that cadre too will shrink to an undetermined percentage of the whole. Ideally, below officer rank, the right ratio between ToD and permanent cadre will need to be established with financial considerations being matched against operational efficiency. Jawans under ToD can also have provisions for absorption by industry, state civil services or the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) if possible.
These proposals are yet at a nascent stage. Some have interpreted the proposed numbers of 100 officers and 1000 jawans as the limit and have thus questioned the viability of the entire exercise with such small numbers. However, these numbers are only for initial trial and experimentation. What needs to be remembered is that the Indian Army’s budgetary constraints demand greater prudence in revenue costs so that the capital expenditure on modernisation can be enhanced. The proposed experiment is a reasonable step in that direction. It is workable as long as the Indian Army can ensure that short period of training or deployment in no way compromises its frontline efficiency. That is the issue being analysed and commented upon very deeply by a majority of veterans and deserves a more detailed look.
Proposed ToD for Officers
The period of training cannot be included in in the proposed three-year period. Having an entrant train for a year to deliver for three years defies rationality. Reducing training to six months and then denying further centralised training (courses of instruction) during the tenure of three years will leave a relatively untrained officer to lead the sub-units. There is a temptation to compare the concept of some foreign armies. We need not attempt to do that because our conditions of service, terrain, threats and social environment from which we draw our aspirants is so uniquely Indian that comparisons are pointless.
Deployment of ToD Entrants
Deployment of ToD entrants must be only for operational areas with an enhanced engagement for four years instead of three, two each in different areas. Their leave entitlement will have to be reviewed as also their training needs. Short Service Commission (SSC) officers in the past, on only five-year engagements, attended army level courses of instruction in development of skills but not career courses. However, they attended the Young Officers (YO) course to prepare them for leadership roles. ToD officer entrants will either need to be further trained in formation level cadres or restricted to perhaps just one army level course even if their tenure of engagement is enhanced to four years. Anything more than that will compromise their residual availability to frontline units. More cadres at formation level will need investment in facilities far more than exist today and improvisation in this is the last thing which needs to be adopted.
Unit Functional Efficiency
It will have an impact on unit functional efficiency since the unit is the army’s main entity of effectiveness. A mix of entries at the level below officers is not desirable. However, if it has to be done, new challenges in the realm of leadership will emerge, with a need for greater sensitivity amongst officers. Over time, this will be overcome provided the ratio between the different entrants is kept optimal. That figure is initially difficult to arrive at and will need to be kept flexible with trial and error.
If service of such officers and jawans is only with units deployed in operational environment, per force it will be infantry which will bear the brunt. This aspect needs greater thought. Four years of operational service by these personnel will be higher than the operational service and experience of many other regular personnel from the permanent cadre. In due course, there will be awkward demands for compensation against risks undertaken and these may not be denied from a legal perspective.
There are a range of thoughts that come to mind when such change is proposed for a complex organisation such as the Indian Army where personnel management is sometimes even more challenging than operational deployment. What the Indian Army’s leadership needs to do is to hold extensive consultations and refer these proposals for reviews by different organisations; the College of Defence Management is just one of them. Wide consultation without constraints of time is necessary if path breaking changes are to be effectively executed with no hiccups at a later stage.