Indian Army faces Massive Shortage of Officers

The approval of the Union Government to open a second Officers’ Training Academy (OTA) at Gaya in Bihar marks a major step to solve the problem of shortage of officers in the country.

The new academy will function on the similar lines as one that exists in Chennai. Initially the new Officers Training Academy at Gaya will commence the training of 250 cadets, but in due course of time it will be upgraded to its full design capacity to train 750 short-service commission officers annually.

At present the Indian Army has two training institutions; one, at the Indian Military Academy ,(IMA) Dehradun that annually churns out permanent commission officers. The other is Short Service Commission officers that are produced at the Officers Training Academy at Chennai.

IMA gets its cadets from the tri-Service National Defence Academy (NDA) at Khadakwasla, which is open to youngsters after class XII, as well as through the `direct entry’ route open to college graduates.

The Officers Training Academy at Chennai is open to college graduates only are also struggling for students. In both the institutions students have to clear a very comprehensive test and this include physical endurance test as well.

As part of their force-restructuring to maintain a young profile and attract bright youngsters to their fold, the armed forces are gradually moving towards substantially increasing the number of short service commission officers in their ranks. The change in intake pattern will eventually lead to one is to two ratio, for Permanent Commission to Short Service Commission officers.

India Military Academy at Dehradun currently has a capacity to train 950 officers per year, while the Officers Training Academy at Chennai trains around 500 officers. The capacity at both these academies is also being expanded to train an additional 100 cadets each every year.

However, the National Defence Academy that enlists high school graduates and turns them into officers for the Navy, Air Force and also the Army, is struggling for students. The defence ministry records show just 190 students signed up this month against the academy’s sanctioned strength of 300.

Incidentally, almost all the three wings of the armed forces in the country are short of officers. The Indian Army is short of around 11,400 officers. The Indian Navy is short of about 1,500 officers. The Indian Air Forces grapple with a shortage of about 1,400 officers.

The shortage of the Indian defence force officers becomes conspicuous when we cross check shortages of the officers with those of its prescribed strength.

The Indian Army has an authorized strength of 46,614 officers. The authorized strength of Indian Air Force is 12,136, whereas the Indian Navy has an authorized strength of 8,797 officers.

India’s army, the world’s fourth largest, is failing to attract enough youngsters with "officer-like qualities” for its 1.13-million strong Army. The second is Indian Army is facing a massive exodus from its ranks, with more and more officers opting for premature retirement. The shortage of officers in the Indian defence forces is blamed on stress, low pay, slow promotions and the military’s tough lifestyle.

Even though the salaries of armed forces have substantially increased after the 6th Pay Commission, the youngsters still find them less compared to the private sector. This consideration is put forth especially is one takes into the account of the life of a soldier which is tough and risky.

Then army has severe promotional bottlenecks. After entering the army, an entry level officer must wait up to 10 years before donning the flashes of a lieutenant-colonel. But even at that level the monthly basic salary does not exceed much. The other contributing factors are poor promotional avenues and frequent transfers that disrupt family life of the officers.

The traditional catchments area like; Punjab and Rajasthan for recruitment of Army officers have gone dry. Most of the families that have strong soldiers background have stopped sending their wards to the Amy schools and are keen to send them abroad have hampered the steady flow of the officers in the Indian Military service.

Added to it is the lack of interest of the Anglo- Indian and Muslim communities in joining the Indian Army that has resulted into the shortage of the officers in the armed forces. If we check the old records and compare with the recent ones the total desertions of these two communities from the armed forces is glaring.

We may like it or not, corruption has entered into the armed forces as well. Many talented recruits feel patriotism and valor the two cardinal features of the deference services are compromised with corruption coming into its ranks. This has resulted in keeping them away from the defense services.

Indian Army faces a dire shortage of officers because the booming private sector is recruiting the best talent. The private sector, which has been luring away India ‘s best talent by offering hefty wages and generous perks and the government and the services, simply cannot compete in matters of salary and perks with the corporate world.

The Indian Armed forces has enormous opportunities available outside the services. According to the defence ministry’s Directorate of Resettlement, a third of the 3,000 officers who retire annually enlist in top Indian business schools. And the corporate world welcomes retiring military recruits with open arms.

This has left the military with poor pickings. Most of those applying are not the right material. Experts feel that the deficiencies should not be met by lowering the quality standards of the world’s largest voluntary army.

India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan and a bloody border skirmish with China since its 1947 independence, has never turned to compulsory recruitment but such a move could be an option in future to meet the demand of the shortage of officers.

Compulsory military service could be one of the avenues before the government but at moment it’s not given much thought but sometime in the future such possibilities cannot to be ruled out.

However, skeptics feel that conscription is not the answer to the problem because it may lead to indiscipline, waywardness and desertions.

Nonetheless the recruitment issue has become an urgent priority for the army after 3,000 mid-level commanders recently sought early retirement on top of an existing shortage of 11,200 officers. The army needs a total of 46,615 officers.

How this anomaly is going to be resolved needs to be seen in the new policies that are going to be evolved by the government in the course of time. The only good news is thanks to India ‘s billion-plus population and high unemployment, the 1.23-million-strong army has no shortages in the lower ranks.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com