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What’s holding back Army recruitment

Though pandemic has been cited as reason, key issues of rightsizing and ‘tour of duty’ need to be resolved first

What’s holding back Army recruitment

There has been no fresh recruitment of jawans in the Indian Army since March 2020. Tribune file photo

Ajay Banerjee

IN March this year, the Ministry of Defence, while replying to a question in Parliament, said there has been no fresh recruitment of jawans in the Indian Army since March 2020. “The recruitment process is suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in a written answer in the Rajya Sabha.

Data shows the recruitment of sailors and airmen in the Navy and Indian Air Force (IAF), respectively, is taking place, but the post-March 2020 numbers are yet to match the pre-Covid days.

So, what is holding back Army recruitment when schools, colleges, offices, trains and flights are back to normal functioning post the pandemic?

The Army faces two issues before recruitment can commence. First, the force is ‘rightsizing’ to be more in tune with modern technology and be less manpower-intensive. After the closure of military farms and merger of base repair workshops, the authorised force levels needed re-calibration, and the assessment is still being done on the final numbers.

Second is the much-debated ‘tour of duty’ that will be the new method of recruitment. This has led to a furious debate within the forces. The contours of the scheme are being finalised at the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) by an in-house committee steered by a uniformed two-star officer.

‘Tour of duty’ system

‘Tour of duty’ will apply to only recruitment of jawans, sailors and airmen in the Army, Navy and IAF. Only 50 per cent of recruits will be retained in the force on a permanent basis and the rest will be de-mobilised in phases before they turn 25 years of age. The tenures would be three years and five years of service. Meaning, no pension. At present, a jawan has to serve for 17 years to qualify for pension.

The age-old recruiting system based on regiments may also go away. For now, a Sikh regiment or Jat regiment would draw troops from these communities, respectively. In future, regiments could comprise inductees from all over India and from all classes. The finer points of this system are also a work in progress by the DMA. This is facing a major mindset block as Army regiments and their battle training are structured on ‘Paltan ki izzat’ (pride of the battalion), with boys being recruited from the same gene pool and from within specific geographical locations. In the older regiments, the system has been working for more than 150 years and, in some cases, even 200 years.

Most serving and retired officers believe the ‘All India, all class’ intake in regiments needs to be done in a very gradual manner.

Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma (retd), former Adjutant General of the Army, says, “The ‘tour of duty’ needs a viable tenure, this three-year one is too short. Also, have better second career options for those who are to be de-mobilised. For instance, at Metro rail systems, or else the trained manpower would be wasted.”

Rightsizing plan

Militarily, ‘rightsizing’ looks to have small, agile forces capable of waging war in the tech-aided era and the Army’s present restructuring proposal is based on an in-house study. The sanctioned strength was about 12.5 lakh jawans before rightsizing, which has been whittled down to around 11.8 lakh; the number of existing serving soldiers would be about 11.2 lakh.

Earlier this week, Army Chief General Manoj Pande referred to the teeth-to-tail ratio of his force, saying, “We are already implementing the Shekatkar Committee recommendations on rightsizing.”

Lt Gen DB Shekatkar (retd) led a committee of experts that in 2016 recommended measures to enhance combat capability and rebalance defence expenditure. ‘Teeth-to-tail ratio’ is military phraseology to differentiate between fighting units and supporting units.

A senior serving officer says rightsizing will have to be done as technology means more people are needed to watch sensor, radar and UAV live feed at the Line of Control (LoC) or the Line of Actual Control LAC), and fewer numbers are needed for watch and ward duties.

“Rightsizing of the Army is needed but should be based on operational parameters, on revising warfighting doctrines and by intakes of technology. We also need structural reforms instead of templating a fixed model,” argues Lt Gen Sharma.

Fait accompli

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the Combined Commanders’ conference in December 2015, had asked for rightsizing, saying, “At a time when major powers are reducing their forces and relying more on technology, we are still constantly seeking to expand the size of our forces. Modernisation and expansion of forces at the same time is a difficult and unnecessary goal.”

On two separate occasions, Modi said more or less the same thing.

On ground, little has happened by way of re-structuring the forces or even jointness, or even the way recruitment was done. The ‘tour of duty’ is now a fait accompli as the pension bill rises.

Think tank PRS Legislative Research, in its analysis on the budget for this fiscal, says, “Expenditure on defence pension has grown at an annual average rate of 10.7 per cent between 2012-13 and 2022-23. This is higher than the average annual growth of the defence budget at 8.6 per cent.”

The share of pension in the defence budget increased from 19 per cent in 2012-13 to 26 per cent in 2019-20. It has dropped to 23 per cent for the fiscal ending March 31, 2022. The allocation for pension in the present year is Rs 1,19,696 crore.

Till the government strikes a balance between the right numbers and new recruitment rules, fresh inductions are likely to be held back.

Region’s presence in Army (Data as of March 2021)

The northern states form 21.5 per cent of the Army.

  • Punjab has 89,088 soldiers, that is 7.7 per cent of the Army.
  • Haryana has 65,987 soldiers, that is 5.7 per cent of the Army.
  • Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have 47,457 soldiers, that is 4.1 per cent of Army.
  • Himachal Pradesh has 46,960 soldiers, that is 4 per cent of the Army.

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