A furious debate has broken out in military as well as civil circles on the ‘Tour of Duty (ToD)’ or ‘Three Years Short Service’ proposed by Army HQ as a trial for recruiting a limited number of officers and jawans in the immediate future.
The proposal envisages a shift from the concept of a permanent service/job in the Armed Forces, towards an ‘Internship’/Temporary experience for three years. This is seen as a radical shift from the long-held organisational view that the period of service of short service entries be increased from the current 5+5 model to 10+4 years for retention of trained manpower for a longer duration.
The argument against this concept would be whether the training costs incurred would be commensurate with the subsequent limited employment of this manpower for only three years. There are valid questions about the cost-effectiveness and whether the cost of training incurred by the organisation will be recovered adequately in three years.
However, according to the calculations done by the Army HQ, the organisation will be spending a much lesser amount on an officer under the new scheme. The costs of pre-commission training (44 weeks) is approximately Rs 12 lakh and the cumulative cost including basic training, pay/allowances, gratuity, proposed severance package, leave encashment and an average cost of training while undergoing other courses during the three years of the proposed ToD comes to Rs 80 to 85 lakhs per officer as compared to nearly Rs 5.12 crores and Rs 6.83 crores incurred on an officer if released after 10 and 14 years respectively.
Since approximately 50 to 60 per cent of the Short Service Commission Officers are granted a permanent commission, the Army incurs an additional cost of another Rs 3 crores as pay/allowances till 54 years of age, and Rs 9 crore as pension up to 75 years. Similarly, the comparison of the cost incurred by the government for a Sepoy with 17 years term of engagement as compared with a Sepoy with 3 years ToD shows that against a lifetime expenditure of Rs 11.49 crores, the government will have to spend only Rs 4.89 lakh over three years with no additional liabilities like in the case of a jawan who serves for 17 years but continues to get a pension till he is alive.
Financial savings apart, other intangible benefits are likely to accrue, the Army’s internal paper argues. While unemployment in the country is a reality, there is a resurgence of nationalism/patriotism among the youth, including the elite, it says. The proposal thus taps into the desire that many young men and women have to experience military life for a short duration, the paper adds. Another benefit from the ToD concept is, with the individuals opting, quite clear that their tenure of duty is limited only to three years, there will be no frustration/aspirations not met, as experienced by short service commission officers when they fail to make the grade for Permanent Commission. Not a regular long time employment but ‘Internship’/ ‘Temporary Experience’ is the guiding principle and purpose of the concept.
Thus there will be no requirement of ‘attractive severance packages’, resettlement courses, or granting ex-servicemen/women status or providing ECHS facilities for these ‘ToD’ Officers and Jawans. This is in addition to huge financial savings.
The major crux of the proposal, however, lies in making the ToD concept attractive and beneficial to both the Army and the individuals who join. Initial survey and feedback from different corporates and social leaders have led the Army to conclude that a man or a woman who has undergone the Tour of Duty, will turn out to be a huge asset for the nation and the organization that employs these individuals. The nation and corporates are likely to benefit from a trained, disciplined, confident, diligent and committed young men/women who have completed his/her ToD, supporters of the scheme argue.
The initial survey, the Army says, indicates that most corporates would favour an individual who has been trained by the military and comes to them at 26/27 years of age (after a 3-year ToD) rather than raw college graduates at 22/23 years of age. Many corporates have indicated that these ToD Officers would also be preferable to the present SSC workforce joining the corporates at 33/34 (after 10 years Short Service). This young, trained, disciplined workforce (post-ToD) is also likely to increase productivity and accountability in different government sectors if inducted later. The ToD concept will become attractive if seen by the youth as a means to boost their subsequent career in the Govt/Corporate world.
Those in favour of ToD point out that most academic institutions offering MBA mandate at least a two or three years’ experience as a criterion for admission. Thus, officers exiting after ToD would have an edge over other candidates due to their training and exposure in the Armed Forces. In an era, when youngsters are prone to changing jobs every two-three years, a ToD tenure will become attractive for those who have a sense of adventure as well a desire to serve the country, they argue. Moreover, ToD officers would get almost double the take-home salary in the Armed Forces for these three years, than they would have got in the corporate world as fresh graduates, before proceeding for their post-graduation or MBA.
The Army is also in talks with the government to explore the possibility of offering an edge in terms of Qualitative/ Quantitative/ Supernumerary criteria for selection in other government jobs. In the 1960s, many of those who joined the armed forces under the emergency commission scheme later took up other, more successful second careers after serving the military. Diplomats like G. Parathasarthy, RamaiahRajagopalan, IAS officers like NN Vohra and ShekharDutt readily come to mind.
The Army also believes that this is an ideal opportunity to those individuals who do NOT want to make Defence Services their permanent vocation, but still want to experience the thrill/adventure of military profession and glamour of donning the uniform. At present, the best candidates are absorbed by the civil world and only the remainder try their option with SSCO entry. With the three years concept of ToD, the Armed Forces are also likely to attract talent from even some of the best colleges including IITs, since graduates from these elite colleges may want to contribute to nation-building and add to their enriched lifetime experience.
One argument against the ToD concept is, of course, the question on combat skills/experience and preparedness of these recruits in a contingency of hot war. The Army, however, points out that this reasoning can be negated with the demonstrated performance of young officers and other ranks during intense counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism operations and notably in the Kargil. Majority of officers killed in action in Kargil had less than three years of service, it points out. If the ToD officers/soldiers undergo the same training as the regular recruits, then their commitment, dedication and performance should not be in any doubt, the army points out.
There is a precedence for this model in Israel. Their experience shows that three years is adequate time for the organisation to reap the benefits of training. The ToD concept is of course based on voluntary military service as compared to conscription in the IDF.
To sum up, proponents of ToD see the following benefits accruing to all stakeholders.
- Army: There is likely to be an exponential reduction in our salary and pension budgets. The cadre mobility of the permanent cadre at the level of No 3 Selection Board will increase due to shrinkage in the base of the permanent cadre leading to a subsequent decrease in the numbers of non-empanelled officers
- Individuals Opting for ToD
- Acquiring very high leadership skills which will come in handy later in any career. An officer/jawan after completing one-year training and three years ToD is likely to display visible improvement in self-confidence, teamwork, responsibility, initiative, stress management, innovation, adaption and social skills.
- Earn almost twice the average salary of a graduate student. Currently, the average monthly take-home of a graduate is about Rs 30-40,000. A young Lt or a Capt in the Army will earn almost Rs 80 to 90,000 a month, by contrast.
- A stint in the military is always a plus point anywhere in the job market.
- Benefits Corporates/Nation
- Gain a disciplined workforce.
- Have a far more tolerant and secular group of individuals available for recruitment since the military inculcates camaraderie, loyalty and respect for different faiths.
- Will get candidates with social and soft skills, essential for the corporate world.
The idea, still at a proposal stage in the Army HQs, has apparently found resonance at the highest levels in the government with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) seeking a detailed plan before it can be cleared and implemented, according to those involved in drawing up the proposal. How soon the ToD becomes a reality, however, will depend upon how quickly the government gets convinced about its efficacy.
By: Nitin A. Gokhale