Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM (Retired) Writes :
The Indian Armed Forces has the unique distinction of having two additional forces that it can embody during war – the Territorial Army (TA) and the Reservists. Both have similar tasks, though the TA does get embodied even during peace, especially for counter terrorism and aid to civil authorities, while the Reservists get embodied during War, as was done during the 1947-48, 62, 65 and 71 Wars, or any other calamity. These are the legacies left behind by the colonial armed forces and does need a review. A merger of both these auxiliary forces would lead to economy of resources and lead to a better management of reservists.
The Territorial Army (TA)
The extreme levels of casualties during the First World War found the British Indian Army in a peculiar situation. It needed troops to secure its garrisons in India and concurrently needed it to reinforce its forces in Europe. The Indian Defence Force (IDF), incorporating Europeans and Indians in separate sections, was formed by the British on 9 October 1917. It was established in order to release regular troops from garrison duties during the First World War. The IDF was generally unpopular among the British conscripts. It was replaced by the Auxiliary Force (for Europeans and Eurasians) and the Indian Territorial Force (for Indians) in 1920. After Independence the Territorial Army Act was passed in 1948 and the first Indian Governor General Shri C Rajagopalachari formally inaugurated the Territorial Army on 09 October 1949.
Starting from the defence of garrisons in India the TA has come a long way. The present role of the TA is to relieve the Regular Army from static duties and assist civil administration in dealing with natural calamities and maintenance of essential services in situations where life of the communities is affected or the security of the country is threatened, and to provide units for the Regular Army as and when required.
It is not a profession, occupation or a source of employment and is only meant for those people who are already in civilian professions; in fact, gainful employment or self-employment in a civil profession is a prerequisite for joining the Territorial Army. Volunteers of the Territorial Army usually serve in uniform for a few days every year, so that they can bear arms for national defence in times of dire need or national emergencies when embodied. When TA units are disembodied, they have a core group from the regular Army, consisting of the Unit HQ staff, that maintain the weapons and equipment for the rest of the TA manpower.
It has a strength of approximately 40,000 first line troops (and 160,000 second line troops) comprising departmental Territorial Army units such as railway, IOC, ONGC, telecommunication and General Hospital, and the non-departmental Territorial Army units of infantry battalions and ecological battalions affiliated to various infantry regiments. They can be embodied by the Chief of Army Staff or the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
With the recent appointment of a Director General of TA, there appears to be a re-focus on how it can be better used for military roles and also to be the proper eyes and ears of the forces in remote areas.
Post the First Indian Revolt in 1857, the East India Company holdings and the three Presidency Armies passed over to the Crown. By the 1880s, the first set of reforms were put in place and the Indian men that were not keen to continue in arms till pensionable service were sent home. The concept of Reservists was formulated for those men who were keen to get pension. These men could register themselves as Reserves, who could be called upon to serve the Army in case of an emergency. Such reserves needed to come for periodic training and the civil establishment was duty-bound to release them for such duties and reinstate them on return. The period of service in reserve list was dictated by each individual’s residual pensionable service.
The Indian Army Reserve Force Act was first passed in 1888. Post Lord Kitchener’s reforms (1903 – 1909) and the reforms post the World War 1, a fresh set of Indian Reserves Act was passed in 1925, with the creation of the TA in 1920. The reservists have continued to be in vogue even post-Independence. In 1987 the Indian Army incorporated a separate Chapter (Chapter V) in the Revised Regulations for the Indian Army, dealing with Reservists. It gave out the duration for reserve service and the respective records offices that are supposed to manage the contact details of these reservists.
The major issues impeding its effective implementation are:
Presently most soldiers retire only after pensionable service, and move on to a second innings, having retired at a relatively early age.
The location of their new innings is varied from the permanent home address given at the records offices. This makes it rather difficult for the respective records office to keep track of the reservists.
In an emergency, calling up the reservists, getting their weapons, equipment and ammunition (many stored at various Ordnance Depots) would be a major task that the records offices would find it difficult to execute. No helping hands from the centres would be available since most personnel would have reverted to their parent units.
The future wars being short, collecting these reserves, their stores and conducting training for them on basic soldiery by respective centres would be time consuming and not make them effective responders to the emergency call up.
Further there is the hidden cost of maintaining all the weapons, ammunition, and equipment for these reserves by the Ordnance depots and the Regimental Centres. These duplicate the weapons, ammunition and equipment that are being provided to the TA, considering that the number of reserves is similar to the strength of the TA.
Merging the TA and Reservists
Rather than maintain two such separate auxiliary forces for similar tasks, it makes economic and administrative nous to combine the two. The restructured force could be organised to have a healthy mix of serving, retired and civilian personnel. For long the Indian Armed Forces have been pushing the Government of India to actualise the lateral entry of their personnel into the para-military forces. However, this is one avenue that is available for lateral entry of all ranks. This would need a change to the extant acts / rules governing these forces.
With the TA units having permanent units spread across India, it could be convenient for them and the Group HQ, currently in each command, to keep track of the veterans on their rolls, even if they move out from one location to another. The management of weapons, ammunition and equipment would also be optimised and engender savings to the exchequer. Also, being spread over most of India, some of these units could be trained to provide CBRN quick reaction teams (CBRN-QRT).
While the rules preclude use of medical personnel in these auxiliary forces, a change in the same could enable creation of a CBRM Medical QRT also. In times of emergencies and pandemics, like the COVID-19, this force could assist the nation in executing their plans to overcome it.
This merged force could be termed as ‘Indian Auxiliary Force’ and be placed under the CDS. At least half the units could have the ‘core group’ from the veterans (all ranks), and the creation of intermediate HQ for this force could also be considered. The staff for these HQ could also be sourced to some extent from the veterans. There would thus be a need for a review of the current re-employment policies also to cater for such a structure.
Currently, there is a TA HQ at the Army HQ and Group HQ at each Command. A recommended structure for this merged Auxiliary Force could be as under: –
An Auxiliary Force HQ under the CDS, with a department in each Service HQ, under the respective Ops Branch;
Rather than the Command HQ, the Army should consider relocating the HQ to Area and Sub Area HQ;
With the regional ECHS, under the Area and Sub Area HQ, having the latest locations of all veterans dependent on their polyclinics, it would enable smooth contact, speedy embodiment, and movement of the force in coordination with the auxiliary force units, in an emergency.
The CDS should consider this aspect also, while looking at an Integrated Logistics Support Structures an Integrated AD Command. A study could be ordered to cover this aspect, which would also economise and streamline this veteran – civilian force as an effective Auxiliary Force.
Charity begins at home, it is said. Rather than decry the lack of side-stepping of military personnel to CAPF and other government departments, it is time that the military look at this auxiliary force also to provide post-retirement employment for the veterans and also achieve economic and administrative savings. A start has been made by creating the post of a DG for the TA. The time has now come to merge the TA and Reservists to better utilise the expertise of the veterans economically. Subsequently, there could be a case to merge the Defence Security Corps with this ‘Auxiliary Force’ and utilise these trained veterans as Instructors in various schools of Instructions also.
Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM (Retired), is currently the Head CS3, USI of India. He has published many articles and papers in his field of expertise – China, Indo-Pacific, Force Restructuring and Force Modernisation.
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.