Saturday, October 13, 2001

"Shortage of officers may continue"

LT Gen Surjit Singh Sangra was commissioned into the Dogra Regiment in 1961. He is a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, and has done the Long Defence Management Course (LDMC) at the College of Defence Management, Secunderabad. He has also attended the prestigious National Defence College, New Delhi.

Lt Gen Surjit Singh Sangra
Lt Gen Surjit Singh Sangra

Having held coveted command and staff appointments, General Surjit Singh has gained wide experience at all levels. He commanded a corps in the western theatre, was Chief of Staff at the Southern Command, after which he took over as GOC-in-C, Central Command. On October 1, 2000, General Sangra was posted as GOC-in-C Western Command.

General Sangra was Mentioned-in-Dispatches in the 1965 war and was later awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM). In 1998, he was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) for his distinguished services. He was Chief Instructor at the Defence Services Staff College and has also done a tenure with the Indian Military Training Team in Bhutan. General Sangra is Colonel of the Dogra Regiment and the Dogra Scouts. The General and Mrs Deep Surjit Singh are nature-lovers and take keen interest in the improvement of the eco-environment.


In a chat with Lt Gen Surjit Singh Sangra, Pritam Bhullar solicits his views on certain crucial issues concerning the Army.

At present there is a shortage of 13,000 officers in the Army. The measures adopted by the government and the Army to combat this shortage have largely been futile. Why should there be a paucity of officers in a country like India which is overpopulated, poor and afflicted with unemployment?

Lifestyle and culture today are very different from what they were a few decades ago. In the present age of materialism, money is the sole determining factor while choosing a career. Besides, our youth like to live a comfortable life. This drives them away from the rough, tough and risky life of the Army. Moreover, the Army has lost its glory and prestige over the years. A spirit of adventure has also gone out of fashion. All these factors have combined to make Army an unattractive career choice. In the current milieu, it seems the shortage is likely to continue.

Surely, there must be some way of tackling this shortage.

Yes, there are ways to motivate our youth to opt for soldiering. We should make joining the National Cadet Corps (NCC) obligatory for all school and college students. Apart from this, compulsory military service for a few years for the youth, as is the practice in some countries, should be introduced. This will enable them to see the military from close quarters.

The one rank-one pension demand was accepted by the government twice but was scuttled by bureaucrats both times. In addition, the 33 years service stipulation, which makes 33 years of service mandatory to earn 50 per cent of pay as pension, is unfair. Almost all jawans, some JCOs and officers cannot complete 33 years of service even after they are given the weightage of service because of early retirement.

The point of granting 50 per cent of pay as pension has been taken up and is likely to be met in the near future. To keep the profile of the Army young a soldier has to retire earlier as compared with his counterparts in the civil services. Discussions were held at the Army Commanders Conference for giving a longer tenure to Army personnel and their lateral movement to paramilitary forces and certain other organisations after the completion of their tenure in the Army. These suggestions should be accepted by the government. This will also go along way in making Army service more attractive.

Military uniform is being misused by private guards and doormen at hotels, restaurants and some big shops. Shouldnít this practice be stopped?

This point has been discussed at the Civil and Military Liaison Conferences at Command Headquarters several times, but to no avail. We are also to blame for not stopping this practice. Since it is an offence, an FIR should be lodged with the police by the Army as and when any such incident comes to notice. Once a few people get punished, this practice will stop.

Military hospitals cater to the treatment of ex-servicemen and their families on an ad hoc basis because no doctors, equipment or medicines are authorised for them. . Why canít the government make proper provisions for the healthcare of ex-soldiers and their families?

This point has been taken up with the government by the three service chiefs many times. A new medical scheme is likely to be introduced shortly in the form of medical insurance. Under this scheme, ex-servicemen and their families will be entitled to treatment at the designated hospitals for which they will get full reimbursement.

Nainital Holiday Home is famous for being the best in this country. Why canít the Kasauli Holiday Home, which is a favourite of serving and retired officers and their families from this region, be upgraded to the level of the Nainital Holiday Home?

Holiday homes should provide good facilities to junior officers and their families so that they can enjoy holidaying there at a nominal cost. This was the idea behind upgrading the Nainital Holiday Home (Lt Gen Surjit Singh was Army Commander, Central Command, Lucknow earlier). The Kasauli Holiday Home is also being improved. Besides installing a TV, refrigerator and aqua guard in each suite, many other improvements are being made to make living in the holiday home more comfortable.

Are you satisfied with the standard of media coverage of the Army at present?

Media coverage of the Army is much better today than it was about two decades ago. This is because interaction and understanding between the Army and the media has undergone a positive change over the years. However, some reporters teach to sensationalise news.