Sandeep Dikshit

1,000 of them wanted to quit in 2005

  • Government reluctant to relieve officers in larger numbers
  • No study conducted so far to interpret the trend

    NEW DELHI: The lure of the private sector is leading to an increasing rise in the number of armed forces' officers seeking premature discharge from the services. But faced with a shortage of officers, the Government has been reluctant to relieve officers in larger numbers, said defence sources quoting figures.

    Last year, over 1,000 officers wanted to quit the armed forces including over 500 from the Army, about 300 from the Indian Air Force (IAF) and about 200 from the Navy, said defence sources. The figures have shown a steady increase since 2002 when 432 officers wanted to quit the services, followed by 767 in 2003 and 800 in 2004.

    Faced with a shortage of officers, the Government has kept the number of officers relieved of service at more or less steady. In 2005, 708 officers were allowed to leave service as against 649 in 2004, 634 in 2003 and 318 in 2002. Despite the steady rise in officers wanting to leave the armed forces, no study has so far been conducted to interpret the trend, defence sources added.

    In the IAF, 246 pilots were permitted to quit service in the last three years, most apparently attracted by higher pay scales in private airlines. However, the IAF says the majority of pilots released from service have already completed their useful tenure as pilots and their exit does not affect the operational status of squadrons. Against an authorised strength of 3,278 pilots, 3,068 pilots are in position. The vacancy of 210 pilots cannot be termed large as it does not affect operational requirements, it contends.

    Increase in suicide levels

    The number of suicides in the Army has touched a record 128 during the current year. The highest suicide figures so far in a calendar year take the cumulative number of suicides by Army personnel since 2003 to nearly 500. The figures do not include incidents of soldiers running amuck and killing their colleagues or officers.

    Among those who committed suicide this year were five officers including a gallantry award winner, five junior commissioned officers (JCOs) and 118 jawans, defence sources said here on Wednesday. The comparative figures were 120, 116 and 119 (including 15 attempted suicides), respectively, for the previous three years.

    Personal problems

    The Army, however, says service conditions were marginally responsible for the suicides. In most cases, soldiers killed themselves due to personal and family problems like marital discords, extra marital affairs by the soldier or the spouse, medical problems, depression and property issues.

    The Army has embarked on a nine-point action plan to reduce suicides with senior officers especially asked to monitor the initiatives. Among the steps is an attempt to reduce the semi-feudal relationship between officers and men by stepping up interaction, improved accessibility of commanders and prompt response to grievances.

    Liberal leave policy

    The Army has also liberalised the leave policy to allow soldiers to attend to urgent domestic problems and has started posting Army Medical Corps JCOs as psychological counsellors to interact with troops and alleviate stress related problems.

    Though the Army may claim that professional reasons were not behind soldiers committing suicide, internal probe reports in two cases of soldiers running amok (fratricide) suggest otherwise.

    In one case perceived harassment by the superior officer and in another heated argument with colleagues led to the killings. Six such incidents took place in Jammu and Kashmir in September this year leading to the deaths of 11 Army personnel including two officers and nine jawans. The Army has initiated identification and counselling of soldiers at higher risk of combat stress and is training junior commissioned officers to act as counsellors in sensitive areas.