Give short service a fillip in army

Reports surfaced recently that the army, faced with a growing salary budget and an immense officer shortfall, has moved a proposal to increase in-take of Short Service Commission (SSC) and correspondingly reduce the number of permanent commission officers. The Ministry of Defence appears satisfied with the proposal, which also involves offering some lumpsum payments to those who serve 10 or 14 years in SSC. 

The present ratio between the permanent and SSC is 4:1, implying the ratio between the main and support cadre, with the permanent being the main. This ratio is skewed. Realistically, it should have been the reverse, if disgruntlement and supersession levels of the main cadre is to be reduced. 

For any army, it is essential to have larger numbers at the junior level. Thus, the AV Singh Committee (AVSC), formed in 2001, had recommended an initial ratio of 1:1.1. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had in October 2008 approved a reduction in the permanent cadre, which is finally being floated now.

The MoD is likely to approve a proposal of two months’ salary per year for those completing 10 years’ service and four months salary for those completing 14 years (for the last four years). The army had also suggested a year’s study leave and a professional course for a better second career for those serving 10 years and two years’ leave for those serving for 14 years. Medical benefits and ex-servicemen facilities, less pension, is also on the cards.

The pyramid structure of the armed forces leaves many officers missing the boat at various levels. The first selection board is generally after 14–15 years of service, at an age of 35-37. Those who miss the cut continue serving till retirement at the age of 54. They are joined by others who miss out on promotion at different ranks. 

The splitting of the cadre into main and support would imply a smaller number remains for consideration for promotion and hence there are fewer superseded. The major problem is to make the support cadre lucrative, inviting youth to subscribe to it.

A report from 2014 stated that the government was considering extending the service of the SSC to 18 years. By retiring them after 18, they would be denied pension benefits, for which a minimum service of 20 years is essential. Other benefits like medical, etc., would be provided.

A report of April 2015 stated that special emphasis was being given to this in the army commanders’ conference, then chaired by General Daljit Singh. The options stated then are similar to the present proposals forwarded to the MoD. The major stumbling block was clearance from the finance ministry, which was not forthcoming. A report in January this year stated that the Short Service Commission Officers Association (SSCO), based in Hyderabad, had decided to move the Supreme Court for pensions.

The fact remains that these officers, after having given the best part of their youth to the security of the nation, cannot be dumped without a proper exit plan. There have been ideas projected for lateral move of SSC officers, post their contractual service in the army, to various Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and other government cadre as also seeking to involve the industry to absorb them. 

While such ideas may sound good on paper and in discussions, the reality is that the MoD has been unable to push other ministries and states to strictly adhere to the government-laid reservations for ex-servicemen. Reservations for ex-servicemen in every Group (A to C) were laid down in 1979 and varied from 10-20%.

There is no monitoring mechanism to ensure that these quotas are being implemented. Data gleaned on the same from multiple sources a year ago proved that most states had only 1-3% of ex-servicemen quotas filled.

Hence, sidestepping into CAPFs may never happen in reality, though promises may be made. In case it does happen, they remain outcasts. The only force where they would be accepted and amalgamated would be the Assam Rifles. Similarly, tapping the corporates may not be an option. There would be promises made, sidestepping may happen, but only for a very limited duration.

Therefore, unless considered alternatives exist, this scheme would fail. One option could be permanent secondment into the Defence Research and Development Organisation and Quality Assurance, in vacancies that are presently occupied by the armed forces.

Another option could be permanent seconding to the Territorial Army and reducing direct enrolment of volunteers. A third option could have them permanently adsorbed into the NCC, details of which would need to be evaluated. The NCC could then become part of the Ministry of Home Affairs, rather than the MoD. This could help reduce the permanent cadre from non-essential appointments.

Unless there is a fool-proof mechanism for absorbing SSC officers, who are not selected for permanent commission nor desire to leave, the system can never be made attractive. Denying them pensions may seem an ideal thought now, but considering the experience of the courts in dealing with women officers and the fact that the SSCO is already moving court, the same may happen again. It would then be fait accompli. 

(The writer is a retired Major General)

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Give short service a fillip in army

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