Late Gen Hamid Gul of the Pakistan Army was termed as the father of terror by few western journalists and even a documentary was made on him with this title. He was forced to retire from Pak Army in 1991. Later, in a TV interview, he was asked for the reason, to which he replied, “I was being side-lined by being offered to assume charge of Heavy Industries, Taxila as its Director General. I have been a field commander all my life and I just did not want to become a GENERAL MANAGER. Hence I preferred to hang up my boots.”
Hope we have Generals running Army’s affair and not General Managers, whose main aim appears to be to – “reduce the running cost at any cost”. Recent proposal of three years ‘Tour of Duty’ (ToD) is an effort in the same direction.
It will just give a head count at a cheaper price, which will have a serious impact on the operational capability of a unit. Let us see how: –
• As per the media report, “There is a “resurgence of nationalism and patriotism” in the country and the proposal attempts to tap the feelings of youth who do not want to join the Army as a profession but wish to experience the military life for a temporary duration, a source said.” But there is no dearth of candidates for post of Officer or Jawans. Thousands appear for Services Selection Board (SSB) every year but most fail.
For decades, NDA, IMA, OTA etc have been running courses with lesser candidates than the sanctioned strength – mostly courses start with 60-70% of the sanctioned strength. Similarly thousands show up for a recruitment rally to fill few hundred vacancies. So how exactly the suggested ToD will tap the “resurgence of nationalism and patriotism” in the country?
• The proposal categorically states that the selection criteria for Officers and Jawans will not be diluted. Hence a ToD aspirant will have to clear SSB interview. If a candidate has the potential to clear SSB, why would he opt for Three Year ToD instead of Permanent Commission or the Short Service Commission of 10 Yrs or 14 Yrs? And honestly, why should he be given the choice to serve for three years? That would be like wasting a talent, which is already in short supply. To say that these Officers/ Jawans can join the corporate sector would imply that the whole exercise is basically a selection process for the corporate world?
SSB is not just another interview. It is grilling 5 day exercise where three Officers (Group Task Officer, a Psychologist and an Interviewing Officer) judge each candidate on a number of parameters to conclude if a candidate possesses Officers Like Qualities (OLQ). There are a number of indoor written psychology tests exercises . Verbal skills by way of extempore talks and even debates. For leadership tests there are a range of outdoor exercises like command task, group task, semi-command task etc. At the end of five days’ exercise, they have a fairly accurate capability profile of each candidate. Before I went to appear for my SSB interview years ago, I went to a retired Colonel for guidance. At the end of our session, he said “Do not try to fake. Because at the end of the day, they will know exactly your worth and faking or posing will not help
So clearing SSB is not a piece of cake. One has to have it in himself to get “RECOMMENDED”. And offering ToD to a suitable talent would be actually wasting it. The corporate sector has always being preying on candidates who have cleared the SSB and are in the toppers in the merit list. The corporate argue that when such a thorough job of selection has been undertaken by the SSB why waste time, effort and money to look for someone else, just poach from the merit list.
Well, let’s consider that we get Officers for three yearsunder ToD. The only good thing they will do to the army providing head count at a reduced cost. The ToD proposal says: –
“The cumulative cost of pre-commission training, pay/allowances, gratuity, severance package, leave encashment, and other costs is nearly Rs 5.12 crore on an officer if he/she is released after 10 years, and Rs 6.83 crore if released after 14 years. A similar cost for those released after three years of Tour on Duty (ToD) would be around Rs 85 lakh.”
Simple mathematics says that a ToD in a unit for 10 years will cost the Govt Rs 2.83 Cr against Rs 5.12 Cr of an SSC officer for 10 years – saving of Rs 2.29 Cr. It looks a convincing argument but one should look at the price the Army will pay for this financial saving.
• Cadets receive basic military training in the academy but the real operational training starts on-the-job when they join their unit, especially if they join the combat arms and combat support arms., in those units that are actively involved in the Counter Insurgency operations or deployed along the LoC. No rookie officer is sent to operations right after he passes out of the academy. They are in serious business of killing, where one kills the enemy or gets killed by the enemy.
• Commanding a section or a platoon in an operation is a huge responsibility. A small mistake by the officer and men under-command pay the ultimate price. That’s why the units groom the new officer. I seriously doubt if a Commanding Officer (CO) will be willing to spend his battalion’s time and energy to groom someone who is going to say good-bye in three years? Most likely ToDs will be deployed in non-operational tasks.
Depending on the Arm/ Service they are commissioned into (Infantry, Armoured, Artillery, Signals, EME etc), the newly commissioned officers are detailed for the first basic professional courses starting with Young Officers course that takes around 6 months or so, where they learn the basic skills of the Arm/Service they serve in. Given the very short duration and the ultimate purpose of saving cost, most likely ToD officers will not go for such courses.
Though there is no official word about it but it would simply make no sense to send someone for such courses considering the extremely short duration of his service. Hence his productivity would remain handicapped.
• Next, consider that a ToD officer has joined Signals or EME Corps and goes for basic courses. By the time he goes back to his parent unit and start working with full potential, it would be his time to say good-bye to the army. So the Army turns into a training institute to produce great talent for telecom companies and engineering companies. How exactly would it be operationally beneficial to the army?
• Most Jawans come from rural areas, their life is at risk every single day in the field area. They are no non-sense and straight forward men who mince no words to describe a person or a situation. When an Officer joins from the academy, he/she has to earn respect of the humble soldier. It does not mean that Jawans do not respect the new officer, they surely do. But they respect the rank of the officer, till the officer proves his leadership qualities and earns their respect to be able to command them to walk into jaws of death during a mission.
ToD officers would have very limited time and scope to achieve this. It is to be seen what regular ORs would think of a ToD officer or a ToD Jawan – most likely as an urban youth looking for a stamp on his curriculum vitae for his job after three years.
• Every SSC officer puts his heart and soul into the service because at the end of his SSC tenure, he will be judged upon his performance for the Permanent Commission. But from the very beginning, a ToD officer would know the end date of his service. This would hamper his productivity as he would remain uncertain about his future thereafter.
• The proposal says that a ToD Jawan will save 11.5 Cr against a Jawan that serves for 17 years. Test run of 1000 ToD Jawans will save whopping 11,500 Crs! But he will face same challenges as ToD officer in getting groomed and future uncertainty after three Years. By the time he starts working to full potential, his service end date would arrive. And the unit would be in continuous training mode to train few Jawans and seeing them off. Won’t this hamper a fighting unit’s potential? Afterall the strength of a chain is gauged by its weakest link.
Post Retirement: –
“Initial surveys tell us that all corporates would favour an individual who has been trained by the military and comes to them at 26/27 years of age rather than as a raw college graduates at 22/23 years of age,” said a military officer to PTI.
It is not clear who conducted the survey and who participated in it? Mr. Anand Mahindra of Mahindra Group has welcomed the ToD proposal and shown keen interest in hiring the veteran. Generally SSC officers retire at around 40 years of the age and they find it hard to start their second career. ToD officers would not face that problem, they would be out of the Army at 27-28, but starting their second career would not be a cake walk for them.
ToD officers will be experienced, disciplined, well-organized and possess leadership qualities but very few of them would have skill sets required by open market. Corporate World is cruel. Their only goal is to make profit, if numbers allow they hire else they fire employees. They hire strictly as per the skill set required and as per allocated budget. And not to mention, the ToD officers and Jawans will face some competition from millions of graduates, engineers, management graduate who would be very capable, energetic and a desperate lot, ready to start their career even at lesser pay.
Singapore has a mandatory National Service (NS) of 2 years for every male Singaporean national. Author worked in Singapore for three and a half years and discussed this with a lot of Singaporeans. All of them were unhappy over the loss of 2 years of professional life. Because of NS, they would hit the job market by 25-27 years of age in comparison to female Singaporeans and those male Singaporeans who were exempted from NS due to medical reasons. Their NS experience did not provide any additional edge in the open market.
It would be interesting to see how it plays out in India.
A possible solution:-
Army’s organisational structure is pyramidal. By certain age, either one proves itself capable of promotion and goes up in the chain or steps aside to make way for others. There is an age limit for every such promotional opportunity. Sometimes an officer has been recommended for the next rank but there is simply no vacancy available. He waits till the due date and retires with a heavy heart. Same is the case with Jawans, they may keep getting promoted till they become Subedar-Major or Risaldar-Major, else they retire. And a great lot of them retire every year to keep the Army young. This cycle keeps expending the pension bill.
One of the possible solutions to reduce the pension bill could be transferring a portion of officers and men of Army to the Central Armed Police Forces like CRPF, BSF, SSB & ITBP. Total strength of CRPF is around 3 Lakhs and BSF is around 2.5 Lakhs. SSB and ITBP each have around 90,000 personnel on their rolls. Their combined pool is huge and can absorb a good lot of army personnel. CAPFs work under Home Ministry and their organization structure is almost similar to army. Army officers and Jawans would not find it difficult to get absorbed in these organisations. And it would make these forces much more motivated, disciplined and capable. We would have a true second line of defence.
It is not say that at present, these forces are not capable or lack motivation. But moving army personal carrying years or decades’ experience in CI operations would boost the capabilities of these forces enormously. However, this proposal has not been allowed to even be tested due to the deeply entrenched military-civil divide. This proposal will not see the light of day till an enlightened political leadership has the gumption to implement it.
In Aug 2019, Govt of India issued orders that all personnel of CAPFs can serve till 60 years of age. Transferring Army personnel to CAPF would solve a number of issues – CAPF would get stronger, army personnel would have second career, their pension would get delayed till 60 years of age and after they retire, their pension bill can be shared among Home and Defence ministry. This would reduce the pension load on both. It would also reduce Training Expenses of Home ministry as well because the trained army personnel would just need a crash course of process/procedure of the new role they would assume.
In nut-shell, if ToD plan is implemented, ToD officers/ jawans and the corporate world may gain something out of it but the army’ operational capability will be a net loser. But then we live in a society that has very little or no value for human life – be it a civilian or men in uniform. We mourn their tragic loss on Social Media for a couple of day. Nothing changes in real life, it remains business as usual. In such an environment, the magical figure of saving of Rs. 11,000 Cr for every 1000 ToD Jawans would most likely take precedence over the operational capability of army units.