The Indian Army is facing a peculiar problem – not enough youngsters are attracted to join the 1.1-million strong force as officers.
Expressing concern at the situation, the Army Chief, General Bikram Singh, has said that about 10,500 officers are needed. The shortage, he said, was impacting the officer-jawan relationship.
According to official figures, the shortage is around 10,500 in the Army, 1,400 in the Navy and 1,100 in the Air Force.
Union Defence Minister A. K. Antony has said the shortage is “partly attributable to accretions from time to time, tough selection procedures and difficult service conditions coupled with perceived high degree of risk involved in recruitment and training.”
He said a number of steps to attract youth to the armed forces have been taken. These include increase in tenure of Short Service Commission (SSC) officers from 10 years to 14 years, increasing promotional avenues for officers by implementing the A.V. Singh Committee recommendations on restructuring of officers’ cadre of the Indian Army and implementing the suggestions of the Sixth Pay Commission report. Last week, the Government had broadly rolled out the one rank-one pension scheme for ex-servicemen and also hiked family pension.
For the purpose of recruitment, the country is divided into recruiting zones and every zone is allotted a quota based on a percentage of its population and ethnic grouping. A legacy, slowly being diluted, is that of combat arm units or regiments recruiting from a particular zone or mixture of ethnic groups.
The shortage of officers has been plaguing the force for several years, resulting in poor management at the unit level. The Army’s sanctioned strength is about 46,600 officers. Army officials attribute the shortage to accretion in force levels from time to time and say that as a career option the job is characterised by hardship in the form of unsettled life, disruption of children’s education, risk factor and early retirement age. Every year about 600 officers retire as Lt. Colonels and Colonels at the age of 54.
The Army Chief said programmes were being held in several colleges and universities to motivate the youth to join the force.
“The youngsters feel motivated to join but their motivation level goes down when they discuss the Army as a career option with their parents. We intend to reach out to parents. Risks are everywhere but in the armed forces these are managed well,” said General Singh.
“We are taking measures like spreading awareness and convincing parents to send their children into the force to address the shortage. The disenchantment is also affecting soldiers as more than 10,000 took pre-mature retirement from the force last year. In 2011, 10,315 soldiers opted for premature retirement, while the figure for 2010 and 2009 was 7,249 and 7,499 respectively. The jawans, who are better educated than in the past, retire around a productive age of 35 years to look for greener pastures instead of continuing in the force,” senior Army officials added.
They said the Government has sanctioned establishment of two additional Service Selection Boards (SSBs) under the selection centre in the North at Roopnagar, Ropar, in Punjab which would facilitate the intake of more officers.
With its motto of “Live for something rather than die for nothing”, the Army is planning intensive publicity campaigns targeting both urban and rural areas. Officials said a number of “image projection campaigns” have been launched by the recruitment directorate to attract quality youth and spread awareness about the “Army as a career”.