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Indian army hit by acute shortage of Officers

World’s otherwise 2nd largest army struggles to woo youngsters to adopt military career | Desperately looks out for a few good officers | Begins outrageous campaigns to attract youngsters | Young officers opt to commit suicide rather than continue to serve in Indian Army | Young officers including female officers continue to commit suicides in Indian Army | Lt. Sushmita Chakravorty of 5071 ASC Battalion of Indian Army killed herself when not allowed to quit army | Indian COAS deeply worried over prevailing situation | Officers-Jawans face-off become routine matter due to lack of officers

From Ajay Mehta and Ashok Trivedi

NEW DELHI – 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 Indian 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.

Indian 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 characterized 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”.

According to The Daily Mail’s investigations, the Indian Army leadership wants around 2 Short Service Commission (SSC) officers for every permanent officer. According to these investigations a proposal, now with the Defence Minister, seeks to increase the proportion of SSC officers with respect to the permanent commissioned officers.

“The army has submitted the proposal to increase the intake of short service commissioned officers by making it more lucrative. The proposal is lying with the defense ministry,” a senior armed forces official told The Daily Mail, requesting anonymity.

The Daily Mail’s findings further indicate that currently, people who are not certain about committing to permanent positions in the army join under SSC and serve the army for five years.

At the end of the period the officer is allowed to opt for permanent commission, choose another five years of service or retire.

In contrast, an officer under permanent commission has to serve for 20 years. The SSC acts as the support cadre to the regular cadre, which is twice its strength. The proposal seeks to reverse the proportion.

“According to an internal report the shortfall of little under 11,000 army officers would be bridged in 20 years. The proposal is to take two short service officers for every permanently commissioned officer. This will help make up the shortfall in due course without affecting the promotion aspects caused by the pyramidal structure of the army.

“In short the proposal is to increase the proportion of short service commissioned officers from the current one-third,” the officer told The Daily Mail.

The Daily Mail’s findings further indicate that the Indian army’s sanctioned strength is 46,615 officers, but it has been facing a shortage of 11,238. For the world’s fourth largest army middle-rung officers leaving for better-paying corporate sector jobs has been a constant problem.

The Daily Mail’s findings further reveal that the problem has been aggravated because the Indian army is unable to get enough numbers to join its officer rank. The Indian Defence Forces need 2,100 officers every year.
These finding further disclose that army has opened a second Officers Training Academy (OTA) at Gaya in Bihar, supposed to house 500 cadets.

However, in the old OTA at Chennai the cadet intake has come down from 407 in 2008 to 315 in 2009, against an authorised strength of 700 and further down by 34 percent in 2010, 2011. “The army has sought to make SSC more lucrative by increasing the number of serving years from five to 10. Another proposal is to give them a two-year study leave at the end of their service to help them find a better second career option,” said the officer.Now, the Indian army is hoping the financial crisis in the corporate sector and the Sixth Pay Commission, which has increased their salaries, will help bring in many more officers to the armed forces.

The Daily Mail’s findings further reveal that the elite Special Force units of the Indian Army need a few extra hands. And the Army has decided to take a strong step.

The Army has planned to compulsorily send two passing-out officers to Special Force (SF) units to maintain the sanctioned strength. Two volunteers from each batch of Indian Military Academy (IMA) and Officers Training Academy (OTA) will be sent to the seven PARA (SF) units.

“SF units require men with very high mental and physical strength. Even highly trained officers from military academies fail to fulfill the criteria set by the Special Forces,” said a senior Army officer, wishing anonymity.

Sources at the Indian Army Headquarters told The Daily Mail that almost 70 per cent of officers from Seven PARA have been deployed across the country. The PARA have a sanctioned strength of 35 officers but due to the decreasing number of new inductions, most of the units are functioning with only 10 to 12 officers. “These are specialized units and only the best can go through the training. Even though we are heavily short-staffed there is no question of compromising on quality.

Thus the existing strength is made to bear all the strain,” said the officer. The strain increases further as the existing officers are sent off to several schools related to battlefield training in the country to undergo mandatory courses and exercises. Consequently, the units are operating with an average strength of five to 10 officers at most times.

The Daily Mail’s findings reveal that in some units there has not been any new induction in the last threeyears. “The criteria to join the SF units are tougher than in any other unit in the Army. More than half of the officers who opt for SF units are rejected in the 90 days probation period,” said an Army officer, wishing anonymity.

It remains a fact that most of the Indian army troops are fighting insurgency movements in around a dozen different parts of the country and are sick of this style of warfare. This has raised the level of frustration and depression amongst the officers and soldiers of the Indian army which has lead to the alarming ratio of suicides and killing of fellow colleagues by Indian Army personnel.

A recent article over at the BBC News website claims that the Indian army is loosing more soldiers to suicide than to enemy action. The statistics for this year alone are a bit weird.

It seems the key issue is leave, or rather the lack of it. Most experts attribute the growing stress to low morale, bad service conditions, lack of adequate home leave, unattractive pay and a communication gap with superiors. To quote from the article: “Soldiers get angry when they are denied leave and their senior officers themselves take time off. It triggers a reaction, they are well armed and they take their own lives.”

This one is certainly for the “Weird” category here. Just take a look at the following key statistics:-Since 2004, 303 soldiers have been killed in militant attacks. Since 2004, 422 soldiers have taken their lives, killed colleagues or died after colleagues ran amok of the 408 soldiers, 333 killed themselves.

Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t this seem a bit wrong to you? Well-armed (and trained) soldiers who get bitchy because their leave has been cancelled decide to a) retaliate using their well-honed skills, training and equipment or b) kill themselves in protest”.

Renu Agal of BBC Hindi service New Delhi describes this phenomenon in these words, “Nobody quite knows why Lt Col Jha pulled the trigger on himself - he had been serving in the military for the past 14 years. According to his mother, Lalita Jha, “there was no tension, no problems. I just can’t understand why he did it”.

He is far from the only soldier to take his own life last year - Capt Sunit Kohli, Maj Sobha Rani, Lt Sushmita Chatterjee... the list goes on. In fact, the Indian army is losing more soldiers in these incidents than in action against the enemy.

The army has lost over 100 soldiers to enemy attacks so from 2009 to2012. But over 300 soldiers have already taken their lives. In addition, another 54 have been killed by their colleagues.

What is happening to the Indian army? The million-strong force is clearly under tremendous stress. Though it has not fought a full-blown war in decades, the force is bogged down in fighting domestic insurgencies, guarding restive borders and sometimes quelling civilian rioting.

Most experts attribute the growing stress to low morale, bad service conditions, lack of adequate home leave, unattractive pay and a communication gap with superiors. Retired Maj Gen Afsar Karim, who has fought three wars, says that the stress may be high among soldiers because of lack of leave.

“The army is involved in a [difficult] long running internal security environment. There is lack of rest and they get very little leave. Lack of leave increases his stress,” he says. “Soldiers get angry when they are denied leave and their officers themselves take time off. It triggers a reaction, they are well armed and they take their own lives.’’

Then there is the question of what many say is low pay - starting salaries in many jobs in middle-class India are double that of a new soldier, and for many of them the army no longer holds out the promise of a good life.

Retired Maj Gen Karim suspects that with the increase in numbers of soldiers, cohesiveness is being eroded. “In our times, we used to know the names of our soldiers, where they came from. We used to meet their families, but now the army has expanded manifold and this cohesiveness is gone,” he says, on what precisely is causing these soldier deaths.

Lalita Jha, mother of Pankaj Jha, hopes that she will find out more about her son’s suicide. “I am sure the army will look into the matter and find out what happened,” she says.

Before more soldiers take their lives, one hopes. Although the Indian Army top brass had also come up with a unique experiment of posting glam girls (Prostitutes) to meet the natural desires of male soldiers, (http://www.dailymailnews.com/0909/08/FrontPage/FrontPage5.php) yet it is still looking for “a few good men” to take care of its elite combat wings as nobody with a slightly higher caliber in the Indian army is not willing to serve there.

The Daily Mail’s findings indicate that in June 2006, a female officer of the Indian Army committed suicide by shooting herself in Udhampur, headquarter of the army’s Northern Command, in Jammu and Kashmir as she was “dissatisfied and unhappy with her job”.

According to the investigations of The Daily Mail, the 25-year-old officer Lt. Sushmita Chakravorty of 5071 ASC Battalion went to a guesthouse near her official quarters on the evening of June 15, 2006 and asked the sentry there for his rifle “as she wanted to get her photo with that”.

The unsuspecting sentry handed his weapon and in moments Lt. Chakravorty shot herself with it. She was shifted to the army hospital where she was declared brought dead. This was the first incident of its kind in occupied Jammu and Kashmir of a female army officer committing suicide.

The officer’s mother Sadhana Chakravorty told media persons in Udhampur that Lt. Chakravorty had “unwillingly joined the army about 10 months ago”. The family hailed from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and she was a first grader in M. Sc chemistry from Bhopal. Her father P B Chakravorty is working with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL).

Lt. Chakravorty had returned from two months leave on May 30,2006. “I came with her as she was feeling very low,” her mother said. Sadhana told reporters that her daughter had developed a very short temper and had become more so as she was “disillusioned with her present job”. She wanted to quit the army but could not do so as “she had to pay the bond money to the army”.

“We had told her that the money could be arranged by selling off the house in Bhopal,” Sadhana said. But Lt. Chakravorty did not agree to it “because she was concerned about her younger brother too who had just passed Class 12.”

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