When the idea of Tour of Duty (ToD) in the Army first appeared in media in 2020 stating that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is preparing a case for one year training for youth followed by 3-year Army stint as officers and jawans who thereafter can join corporate sector, demerits if this absurd proposal were listed in these columns – Dissecting the Tour of Duty.
Now media states ToD is under active government consideration; to recruit soldiers for short periods of three and five years for half the Army (possibly 25 percent serving for three years and another 25 percent for five years) with the balance Army personnel continuing to serve their full term as earlier till they reach their retirement age.
The main reason behind the ToD concept is the pension bill of the Armed Forces although the pension allotment is always mentioned separately. There is no dearth of money in India considering the lakhs of crores of freebies being given by political parties and the various ‘money for votes’ schemes floating around, all of which will multiply in the run up to general elections 2024. But the pension bill of the Army should be viewed in isolation. It must take the following into account:
- The absurd ratio of 1:4 vis-à-vis civilian-defence employees and their uniformed counterparts continues to grow in favour of civilians with expansion of Defence Estate (DE) (whose disbandment was recommended by CGDA in 2010 being most corrupt part of MoD) and ongoing expansion of the PCDA under pretext of establishing Service Centres for the SPARSH scheme.
- Civilian-defence employees have faster promotions with periodic promotion boards and are authorized NFU due to which they earn many times more than soldiers.
- Veteran civil-defence employees continue to receive pensions with yearly OROP, having enjoyed NFU while serving. Even today 36 percent of defence pension bill is consumed by civilian-defence employees who retired before introduction of the NPS.
- The CRPF has recently been authorized NFU but the Armed Forces continue to be denied the same.
- Army soldiers retire between 35-40 yrs age, whereas all civilian employees including CAPF serve longer by 20-25 years and go through more upgrades and 2-3 additional Pay Commissions. Compared to Army veterans, civilians draw pay for 20-25 years longer and retire with 10-15 times higher pay.
- Army pensions are so meagre that even NPS contribution to civilian employees are many times more since NPS gives “additional pay” to everyone till 60 years of age.
- All IAS, IPS and Group ‘A’ Services not only retire in HAG/above Pay but also enjoy yearly pension revision or OROP – all civilians/bureaucrats retiring up to 2036 will have OROP.
The savings in Army pensions ‘envisaged’ under ToD should take into account that the number of soldiers retiring every year will increase which will entail additional expenditure on recruitment and training recruits; increase in establishment, training courses and recurring revenue expenses.
It is wrong to debate military pensions in isolation. The additional expenditure on account of NFU to civilian-defence employees, police forces and civil services till they serve till 60 years of age and “additional pay” under NPS also till 60 years of age, cumulatively could easily be 30-50 times or more than on pension of Armed Forces. Will the government reveal these figures or would the media examine this issue unless there is a gag order by the ‘deep state’?
The IPS and IAS officers posted to cities like Guwahati and Leh draw a monthly hazard allowance of Rs 75,000 compared to an army officer’s monthly Siachen allowance of Rs 42,500. Why the difference?
The most damaging impact of the ToD system will be the drastic reduction in operational capability of the Army. For what period will these “passengers” be available to the unit with annual leaves, casual leaves, courses, temporary duties etc whether employed for three or five years? What about the cohesion of a fighting unit – or are these ‘passengers’ to be treated like ‘house guests’? Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy had tweeted some three years back that some of the MoD bureaucrats have been honey-trapped by Pakistan’s ISI. Is ToD another nail by these bureaucracy in the back of the Armed Forces?
Despite successive pay commissions recommending that soldiers retiring at the age of 3-40 years should be provided with jobs like absorption into Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), the government has been unable to do so. In fact, the government is not even bothered. With more numbers retiring, it is an impossible to accommodate them in worthwhile jobs. Surely the politico-bureaucratic hierarchy cannot expect the Army to do so, especially given that thousands of veterans including war wounded and war-disabled already waiting for re-employment.
Why would the youth join the Army for three or five years when there is no certainty about employment after they retire or any pension? Have we considered the dangers of youth well versed in the use of firearms let loose in the society? What then is the plan of the ‘deep state’ for soldiers who served with the Army for three or five years?
Surely we cannot be planning to provide mercenaries for the US-led war against Russia in Ukraine or elsewhere, albeit some desperate for jobs may themselves volunteer to join mercenary or terrorist forces abroad. They would also be prey to be part of goon armies of rogue mafias, politicians and political parties – all of which may be on foreign payrolls. After all, where there is no dearth of money within India, there certainly is no dearth of funds with organizations abroad and even governments who want to destabilize India.
Launching the book ‘Fifty Years of the 1971 War: Account from Veterans’, a compilation of accounts of various war veterans which also contains a message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the Rashtriya Raksha University at Gandhinagar on April 13, 2022, Chief of Army Staff General M M Naravane said, “For a country to prosper, you need a stable and peaceful environment. That will happen only if you have strong Armed Forces that will secure your borders. Therefore, whenever we talk of our Armed Forces and the expenditure made on our Armed Forces, we should not see it as an investment. It is an investment from which you can get good returns and it should not be seen as a burden on the economy.”
One can expect the ‘deep state’ to try its utmost to push through the ToD scheme through the COAS-designate, Lieutenant General Manoj Pandey when he takes over as the COAS, and they may already be working to achieve this. But the Defence Minister seriously needs to examine the issues involved that will seriously impact the combat capability of the Army.