The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is reportedly preparing a case for Tour of Duty (ToD) in the Army; one year training for youth followed by 3-year Army stint as Officers and Jawans, who thereafter can join corporate sector. The aim is to make up officer shortages, provide better manpower to corporate sector and save money in pensions. Government reportedly invests overall Rs 6.8 crore in a SSC officer retiring with 14-year service (calculation basis unknown) whereas investment in ToD officer will be Rs 85 lakhs with no pension. However, MoD proposal includes Rs 5-6 lakh for ToD officers on retiring and Rs 1-2 lakh for jawans.
ToD differs from earlier calls for compulsory military service before joining government service. It is not conscription either, like in South Korea where all male citizens between 18-25 years must serve in military for year plus, which is in addition to the authorized officer strength. The first Service Chief from India visiting South Korea’s official invite in 1997 was provided an LO who had taken a break from studies at London School of Economics for compulsory military tenure.
Japan’s Ground Self Defense Forces (JGSDF) follow part-Territorial Army concept even in fighting units – one sub-unit is manned by youth from corporate sector on deputation by rotation; funded by respective private companies, not by JSDF. Interestingly, the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee in 2003 recommended 2-year industrial deputation with eventual absorption, but was not implemented. Successive Central Pay Commissions too recommended sidestepping of Army personnel to CAPF and other organizations, which was not implemented. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is often queried of how many Short Service Officers (SSC) completing their tour of duty do they absorb into the various organisations under the MoD? NIL. Same will be the fate of ToD absorption in corporate sector.
Assured jobs for ToD officers in corporate sector is hardly likely; corporate priority being ‘suitability’, not age. If that were not the case, all retiring SSC officers would be absorbed by them. Therefore, lure of corporate job for attracting youth to ToD is unlikely to work. Today’s youth being tech savvy with multiple options would prefer acquiring additional qualifications to join corporate sector rather than joining Army. Besides, for good reasons, a former Army Chief had publicly stated that Army is no more preferred option of the country’s youth.
Why would youth like to join Army as jawan under ToD with uncertain future and not prefer to join the police forces? Another government proposal, as commented upon by a veteran Army Commander, is to induct 100 officers and 1,000 jawans per year under ToD with six-months training to man borders. This is absurd, indicating total lack of understanding of the level of professionalism required for the task. If it is for anti-smuggling, we might end up with them ‘facilitating’ smuggling. On the other hand, if such a force is aimed at civil defence in the rear, it requires police training, not Army.
With Officers Training Academy (OTA) at Gaya shutting down, will SSC and ToD officers be trained at the same OTA in Chennai? How would the ToD cadets feel vis-à-vis compatriots training for 14-year SSC? Same goes for jawans for ToD training with others in same regimental centres. It is also in the news that regular commissioned officers will be reduced and SSC proportionately increased. With ToD, regular commission quota would reduce further. Do we in long-run plan to do away with regular commission, even reduce SSC and increase ToD just because we cannot manage pay-pensions? Will we then land up with all pre-commission training for one-year and skin training establishments down to the bone; salami-slicing the Army at the cost of professionalism. There appears to be that too much of analysis on “Return on Investment” is being done in the government! Which does not auger well for the military.
Priority for posting ToD officers should logically go to combat units for making up deficiencies. ToD officers will be entitled annual and casual leaves, totaling 240 days in three-years. Even if full casual leave is not granted, other absence from unit would include temporary duty and short courses. So what would be physical availability of ToD officer in the unit? Operational experience of ToD officer would be less compared to others and if quota is fixed for ToD officers and other categories reduced, how will it affect the unit? How will the ToD officer perform in the last year of service – put in the best? With no guarantee of second career why would clamour to extend service beyond three years not begin?
In 1995, Japan’s JGSDF announced a 10% manpower cut across the board; because they were having these 10% shortage past several years. If the Indian Army has been constantly suffering officer shortages ranging from 7,680 today to a high of 11,000 in the past, could we slash the authorized strength of officers by say 7,600 that would give a saving of about Rs 50,000 crore plus considering that the investment in SSC officer is Rs 6.8 crore but regular commission officers form bulk of the officer cadre? Despite assured career through regular commission and SSC we continue to have over 7,500 officer shortages. So it would be naïve to speculate that ToD would bridge officer shortages.
It is not difficult to guess that the whole aim is to reduce pensions expenditure, with bit about officer shortages and corporate sector as padding. A nation wanting adequate security must provide pay and pension to personnel tasked for defend. China just announced hiking defence budget by 6.5%, taking it to US $179 billion. We cannot match China but India has never really found the balance between economy and defence – that without a strong military we cannot even call China’s bluff at the bargaining table. Pension budget allocation is always separate but yes ways must be found to reduce pension expenditure, not that successive CPCs did not recommend measures but those were not implemented.
Media always focuses on salary and pensions of the military in isolation, not encompassing all defence employees. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently ordered abolition of 9,304 posts in the MES that relate both to army and civilian-defence employees, and were largely lying vacant if inside sources are to be believed. This is timed well with MoD preparing note on ToD for government approval. However, the bureaucracy has always managed to obfuscate expenditure on salaries and pensions of civilian-defence employees and how this can be reduced.
Against 14.5 lakh Armed Forces, there are four lakh civilian defence employees. 41 Defence Ordnance Factories have 200 plus Joint Secretary-level officers (Major General equivalent) while civilians in MES have 11 HAG-grade officers (Lieutenant General equivalent). AFHQ-CS directly under MoD has been restructured with deliberate misrepresentation of facts to government; posts of seven new principal directors, in addition to the four existing ones, and 36 new directors were sanctioned without any functional requirement expressed by the Armed Forces. Even the SO entry in AFHQ-CS that was directed by government to cease in 2003 was not only circumvented but intake increased from 20% to 50%. Defence Estate (DE), whose disbandment was recommended by CGDA in 2010 being most corrupt part of MoD, has been empowered further and granted NFU with retrospect from 2016, concurrent to free access for civilians in military cantonments.
The public by and large is unaware of the following:
• With four lakh civilian-defence employees against 14.5 lakh military personnel we have a ridiculous ratio of 1:3.6.
• Civilian defence employees have been getting OROP past decades – annual increment in pension denied to military personnel
• Civilian-defence employees are also authorized NFU, not granted to military.
• 36% of defence pension bill is consumed by retired civilian-defence employees.
• On average a civilian-defence employee is five times more expensive than his uniformed part or military veteran.
• Disabled civilian-defence employees are exempted IT as authorized since 1923, which was recently denied to military since the Secretary, Department of Military Affairs (DMA) made it a prestige issue.
• IPS / IAS officer posted to cities like Guwahati / Leh draw monthly hazard allowance of Rs 75,000 compared to army officer’s monthly Siachen allowance of Rs 42,500.
Putting the civilian-defence employees in uniform with same pay and pensions would save lakhs of crores of rupees in the long run though the bureaucracy will not allow this to happen. But it is in civilian-defence employees that ToD and TA should be introduced rather than messing with professionalism of the Army. If youth are to be given feel of adventure, let them join additional TA battalions being raised for ‘Namani Ganga’. Apparently, the ToD idea originated from the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) but why does Secretary DMA not address the ridiculous ratio of 1:3.6 – civilian-defence employees versus military, and examine reducing expenditure on salaries and pensions of the defence establishment – not Army alone.
Defence expenditure depends on the importance policy makers accord to national security and whether they consider Army as necessary evil with periodic talk there will be no war. But war has many forms with conventional conflict just one. The military must be viewed as a threat in being by the adversaries, not that conventional conflict can be ruled out even though it may not be all out war. Erratic experiments to reduce expenditure can even result in losses at national level. For example, converting 61 CAV, the only horsed-cavalry regiment to tank-regiment and not even retaining one squadron is foolish when 61 CAV has won no less than 11 Arjuna Awards. Who in future will represent India in equestrian events at international meets?
If government wants, defence allocations can be boosted in many ways. Before Defence Minster (now Finance Minister) Nirmala Sitharaman opened up 62 military cantonments in deference to the Cantonment Act, it was inserted in media that this will give Army major financial boost and Army was looking at utilizing Rs 1,00,000 crores from this for modernization, Later, Sitharaman dropped the bombshell that not one paisa from this will come to defence. If this was not enough security risk, government has now announced it will open ownership rights of cantonments properties to private players. The committee that recommended this was naturally headed by a former IAS officer. This news would be thrilling to Chinese intelligence, Pakistan’s ISI and organizations like the LeT and AQIS. Government will sell the rights for lakhs of crores. In addition would be steady income from private businesses in cantonments irrespective of what business and who runs it – all coordinated by Defence Estates. And yes, you can guess why Secretary DMA is chosen to relocate cantonments. As they say, a nation will get the Army it deserves.