So far the four set of studies that are being carried out for reorganization of and reforms in the Indian Army have generated superficial debates and discussions, since only bits and pieces of several concrete suggestions have come out in the public domain. One of the least discussed recommendation is about the cadre review of both officers and men in the Indian Army.
According to one suggestion, the Army can make the rank of Brigadier ‘non-select,’ that is all Colonels who have completed three years of their command tenure will become eligible to automatically be promoted to the rank of Brigadier. However, these Brigadiers will not hold any command but will only be posted as staff officers or in instructional roles in training academies. There will however be a selection board for Major Generals (As detailed in the first part of this series here), who will command the proposed Integrated Battle Groups, directly controlled by a Corps.
Each Commissioned Officer, it is proposed, will start his/her career in the rank of a Captain. The rank of Lieutenant should be held by officers during last one year of their pre-commission training for permanent commission stream or for six months in case of short-service commission. The suggestion also lays down the number of years the officers must spend in each rank to get the next promotion. So an officer can spend the first four years as Captain, the next four as Major and the next six to eight years in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, the proposal says. There will of course be a promotion board to become a full Colonel. Selected Colonels can spend three years in command, the next three as Colonel, staff and the next three or four years as Brigadiers (non-select) before becoming eligible for the enhanced number of vacancies for Major Generals (close to 400), says the proposal.
A more radical suggestion to restructure the Armed Forces HQ Cadre may however bring the Army officers in direct confrontation with their civilian counterparts. The proposal says 60 per cent of the AFHQ cadre (which acts as a support staff in the three service HQs) be reserved for non-empanelled officers or recently retired officers more effective and responsive functioning of the three service HQs. The distribution of vacancies should be proportionately distributed among the three services in this particular stream, the proposal adds. This proposal may however run into a strong opposition by the civilian employees in the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Interestingly, there also a suggestion to allot 60 per cent of vacancies in Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) to serving—both empanelled and non-empanelled—officers at an appropriate level who should then be allowed to continue in the DPSUs until the age of superannuation.
If implemented in totality, these changes will fulfill several objectives. One, it will ensure youthful profile of company and battalion commanders, much younger lot of Major Generals, enhanced vertical mobility of Colonels, assured promotion to the rank of Brigadiers and higher probability of being promoted as Major General (see part I of this series here). More significantly, these proposed changes once implemented would allow specialists, but non-empanelled officers to serve longer and contribute to increased efficiency and effectiveness in organization such as DPSUs, AFHQ and even may be MES (Military Engineering Services). Again, if implemented fully, these measures are designed to save money and enhance productivity.
As for the soldiers, several suggestions have been proposed to retain their youthful profile, compensate them through what is being described as ‘early departure pay.’ Similarly, it is proposed that soldiers and Junior Commissioned Officers or JCOs who retire much earlier (at ages ranging from 35 to 50), must get pension between 55 to 75 per cent of their last pay drawn as pension (depending on the rank in which they retire) as against the current flat rate of 50 per cent for everyone. So for instance, if a soldier retires as havildar (at age of 46 as against notional age of retirement at 57 in central government), he should get pension at the rate of 65 per cent of the last pay drawn. Similar a solder retiring as a sepoy or naik at a much younger age, should be compensated by giving him 75 per cent of the last pay drawn.
In the end, since the idea of reform and reorganization is to achieve the twin goals of increased efficiency/youthful profile and revenue saving, the Army leadership (comprising the Chief, Vice Chief and the seven Army Commanders) will have to deliberate on the issues in detail before finalizing any changes that are bound to have far-reaching impact on the health and standing of India’s 1.2 million strong Army.
Nitin A. Gokhale