While the video of 19-year-old Pradeep Mehra doing a midnight run from work to home and aspiring to join the Army has gone viral on social media, Army recruitment rallies across the country continue to remain suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in the Rajya Sabha on Monday that the recruitment process in the Army has been suspended for the past two years due to the pandemic.
In addition, while 100 women have been recruited in the Corps of Military Police (CMP) in 2019-20, further recruitment of 199 women candidates planned during 2020-21 and 2021-22 has been withheld, the Government informed Parliament.
Defence officials said this will have a serious impact on the Army in few years as the recruitment cycle of soldiers, from selection to training, takes around two years and deficiencies will be felt few years down the line.
Pan India fallout
Mr. Singh, while answering questions in the Upper House, said, on an average 90–100 Army recruitment rallies are held per year. “When these rallies are held, no region of the country is left out. Each rally covers 6-8 districts,” he said. The Minister was responding to a supplementary question by BJP member Mahesh Poddar who said that aince recruitment rallies had been halted for two years, the people in Jharkhand were losing out and asked whether they would be suitably compensated in the future.
“All recruitment rallies planned by Army Recruiting Offices (AROs)/Zonal Recruiting Offices (ZROs) have been suspended till further orders due to the prevailing COVID-19 situation in the country,” Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha in response to a question from several MPs.
Giving details of recruitment rallies for the recruiting year 2020-21 and 2021-22, Mr. Bhatt said 97 recruitment rallies were planned in 2020-21, out of which only 47 could be conducted. “Out of the 47 recruitment rallies, Common Entrance Exam (CEE) for only four rallies could be conducted before suspension of recruiting activities,” the Minister’s reply said. Further, 87 recruitment rallies were planned in 2021-22, of which only four have been conducted so far and no CEE could be conducted.
For instance the Army recruited 53,431 candidates in 2018-19 and 80,572 candidates in 2019-20. For the next two years there has been no recruitment as all. The written answer by Mr. Singh to a question by CPI(M)’s V. Sivadasan said that during the same period — 2020–21 and 2021–22 — the number of recruitments made in the Navy and the IAF stood at 8,269 and 13,032 respectively.
According to the Parliamentary standing committee report on Defence tabled last week, on shortage in Personnel Below Officers’ Cadre the Army informed the committee, “As of January 01, the sanctioned strength was 12,12,000 and we have a shortage of 81,000 which is 6.7%.”
Usually, between 50,000 to 60,000 personnel from Other Ranks retire from the Army every year. Army sources said the gaps will especially be felt in forward areas and high stress duties. “It has already started impacting,” one officer stated.
In the last couple of months, there have been protests in several places in Punjab demanding resumption of recruitment.
In the CMP, 100 women were recruited for the first time as soldiers in 2019-20 after training and have been deployed. A total of 300 vacancies for recruitment of Women Military Police have been released till date, Mr. Bhatt said in reply to another question. However, recruitment of another 199 women in CMP has been withheld.
To a question by NCP’s Vandana Chavan on whether the government planned to recruit women in combat roles in the Army, Mr. Bhatt replied, “What needs to be done is being done, whatever is to be considered in future, is also being considered.”
To a question whether the Government would propose to provide an opportunity by relaxing the rules to the youth who have crossed upper age-limit during the last three years, Mr. Bhatt said “no such proposal has been considered” by the Army and IAF. “However, the Indian Navy has granted one time age relaxation of six months to candidates in the recruitment cycle for the first batch of the year 2021 in the aftermath of COVID-19 as a special case,” he added.
Navy, IAF recruitment
The Navy has been undertaking induction of officers and recruitment of sailors twice every year to fill up vacancies. During the year 2020, recruitment of sailors was undertaken only once, as a result of lockdown and travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Bhatt said.
Similarly, in the Indian Air Force (IAF), while there was no break in the Officers’ selection and induction process during COVID-19 period, the selection of Airmen has been impacted. For instance, the Scheduled Test for Airmen Recruitment (STAR) 01/2020, set for March 19 -23, 2020 across the country was postponed at the last moment due to the pandemic restrictions, the reply said. However, the exam was finally conducted from November 4-8, 2020.