Lt Gen Shakti Gurung, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd), Writes:
The Army has revealed that it intends to start a three year “Tour of Duty” (TOD) scheme for graduates from colleges and universities to enable them to gain an experience of Army life. This was announced by the Army Chief recently who clarified that it would not be the same as conscription and was not meant to be a career option either. Graduates would be inducted as officers based on a stringent selection criterion and a similar scheme would be followed for jawans as well. The idea has been mooted following extensive interaction and feedback the Army received from the youth in colleges and universities. The Army feels that it will make available to society a pool of well disciplined, responsible, and motivated lot of individuals.
Planned initially for 100 officers and 1000 men, the proposal is in sync with the Army’s plans of reducing the burden on the defence budget as well as overcoming the shortage of manpower. No induction plans nor terms of service have been divulged as yet. Fortunately, the Army proposes to implement the scheme without diluting its selection and training criteria.
While the Army’s intent is to innovate and adapt to changing times, it suffers from some inherent shortcomings. To start with, no career can be taken seriously if it is not an option. To induct individuals in whatever capacity for a “time out” exposure could prove harmful to the ethos and culture of this great and honourable profession. Even for the people especially jawans already serving in the Army, this three year package is likely to evoke a sense of “casualness” towards TOD personnel. The Army is a well-established and tradition bound organisation meant to guard the integrity and sovereignty of the country. It must comprise of dedicated professionals who if called upon are ready to sacrifice their lives. There can be no short cuts to that.
The Army had tried selecting volunteer individuals straight from colleges and universities earlier; the Army had started a new entry for officers known as the University Entry Scheme (UES). This entry had also been introduced based on feedback from the youth in colleges and universities who were keen on joining the Army, but as a career option and not for purposes of only an exposure and experience like the TOD model.
The UES entry terms and conditions of service were at par with that of a permanent commissioned officer. Selected candidates were not required to appear for the written examination but were sent directly for the Services Selection Board. Commission as permanent officers was granted after successful completion of one and half years of training at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun. This scheme has since been suspended since, the quality of candidates was not up to the desired mark, and the fact that the Army already had an abundance of different entries in the academies. The TOD would be a similar concept but with a different format.
Individuals being screened for service in the profession of arms need to go through a slew of tests to check their mental and psychological equilibrium. To qualify, they need to be certified as mentally alert and robust; an alertness and robustness that is required while leading men, or when finding oneself in a crisis situation, with only a few seconds to take a timely and accurate decision.
The duration of pre commission training for officers and recruit training for jawans in the TOD model is another grey area. Short Service Commission (SSC) officers who choose the Army as a career to serve for at least fourteen years if not more, undergo a duration of ten months pre commission training. This period of ten months has been arrived at after considering several factors. It is the minimum inescapable duration required to qualify an individual as fit for being commissioned in the Army. Similarly, for the standard recruit coming as a jawan in the Army.
For TOD officer entries, the duration of pre commission training may have to be condensed into a capsule of three to six months. One of the primary reasons for truncated training is the duration for which graduates can be pulled out from their mainstream careers for “experiencing” the Army way of life, by an optimum tenure with the field formations. The training period would need to concentrate on handling of personal weapons, basic field tactics and physical fitness. Furthermore, pre commission training is expensive and if the aim is to save on the budget, an extended period may not serve the purpose. Thus, training will not be meaningful and could spell disaster.
Post commission training too has its own share of problems. Presently young officers from the Service Corps attached to infantry battalions in field, are made to undergo the platoon weapons course at the Infantry School Mhow, immediately on commission. This is done to make them competent enough to handle small arms with live ammunition in a hostile environment. The TOD officers and men would also need to undergo similar training to be able to handle their personal weapons. How this course would fit in within the three years of service, and balance with the optimum exposure would need a careful consideration.
Young officers in the Army are known to deliver in combat. They are the cutting edge. A comparison has been made by the Army stating that only Rupees 80 to 85 lakhs would be spent from the defence budget on a TOD candidate as compared to Rupees Six Crores being spent presently on an SSC officer for 14 years. If TOD is going to be at the cost of reduction in the SSC entry, will it not amount to standards being sacrificed?
Presently SSC officers even after serving their full term of 14 years do not get any pensionary benefits. There is no gratuity and no medical cover either, after leaving service. If their terms of service are modified and a marked improvement will be seen in the number of volunteers for this entry.
Any assumption that replacing the SSC with TOD would improve cadre mobility is also misplaced. While this would remove the SSC batch completely from the No 3 Service Selection Board, and with the TOD not serving till then, it would restrict the competition in the Board for promotion to Colonels, leaving only the ex NDA and Direct Entry Indian Military Academy batchmates in the fray. Thus, while the promotion avenues would improve with vacancies aplenty, there would be far lesser competition. In the long run this could make the system lean towards accepting sub-standard commanding officers and likewise for senior ranks.
The youth joining the TOD, by their age, will always be an impressionable group. Films of war and valour usually lift motivation to soaring heights. Scenes of martyrs returning home wrapped in the tricolour also add their share. Such moments of “josh” are short lived and unless the TOD model is career oriented and could have adverse ramifications.
The feedback received from the youth on which the TOD is planned would be on the assumption that they would be allowed to serve in forward areas to get a feel of an action-oriented Army life. However, serving in forward sensitive areas would have its own restrictions. Putting TOD officers and men, with a compressed training capsule, in confrontation mode with terrorists or even the general public in counter insurgency like situations would not be a wise decision.
Placing such inadequately trained TOD entries in the line of fire and buying casualties can be viewed as human rights violations (HRV). Concurrently, the risk of HRV being committed against civilians by them would need to be guarded against. Legal issues and whether the Army Act would apply in equal measure to TOD entries would come with its own set of problems. Compensatory packages due to battle accidents / casualties and other causes would also need careful consideration. Thus, posting them to sensitive areas would need a rethink; while committing them to peace time and soft field locations may not be what they are looking at.
Such a TOD model is a good concept for a peace time Army. As someone has said “It is a beautiful thing when passion and career come together.” Unfortunately, this is not the case here. Given the hostile environment India faces on its Western, Northern and North Eastern fronts, the proposal to commence such a TOD entry into the Army may just not be right for the moment.
Lt Gen Shakti Gurung, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd), is the ex-Military Secretary of the Indian Army. During his 39 years of service he has extensive experience along the Western and Northern borders and counter terrorism / insurgency operations. He has also been the DA in Myanmar.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.