Oops! Did General JJ Singh actually say so in April 2007? If you believe the India Today, he did. How prophetic? What a visionary?
“Officers are leaving, but many youth want to join. Seats at our academy are always full.” [IT]
The facts, just eight months down the line, are -
At the National Defence Academy, near Pune, where candidates are selected after higher secondary, only 172 of the available 300 seats have been taken up.
At the IMA, which is celebrating its platinum jubilee this year, only 90 cadets have enrolled for the 250 available seats. [Telegraph]
If the matter was not so serious, it could be laughed away in passing. The Army (and the Navy and the Air Force) are hell bent on projecting the Sixth Pay commission as the panacea to all ills plaguing the services. It isn’t that simple.
Let us first look at the reality of the Sixth pay commission, behind the facade of bombastic claims made by various generals. If the grapevine is to be believed, the hike demanded in the basic pay by the three services has whittled down to 2.5 times (from 400% or 5 times earlier). On 01 January 2007, the effective pay (= Basic pay + Dearness pay + Dearness allowance) for a trooper was already 2.15 times the basic pay. Even if the government accepts 2.5 times increase in basic pay, it would make little or no difference in the effective pay as on April 2008. The arrears from the effective date of implementation (say 01 January 2007) would make a decent packet – it would be a subterfuge for lack of a real raise.
One of the other tasks of the Sixth Pay commission is to suggest reduction in the size of the government. The Army baulks and chafes at any suggestions of rightsizing. A quarter of the defence budget of Rs. 96,000 crore goes towards the salaries, while the defence pension bill of Rs. 14,000 crore is not counted towards the defence budget. Make no mistake, the issue of rightsizing the military is unrelated to lowering of guard for national security. It is about cutting wasteful expenditure – to get more bang for the buck [related posts here, here and here].
The Indian Army’s utilisation levels have changed little since the times of the British. In fact, it has only gotten worse. Take, for instance, the increase in colour service. Until the mid-1970s, soldiers served for only seven years, which saved the government from paying pensions to nearly two-thirds of the army, gave the force a more youthful profile and allowed soldiers who quit in their mid-20s to pursue new vocations, including a stint in the paramilitary forces. Today, the retirement age is between 37 and 40 years, when the soldier is too old to start off in another profession. At present, there are two pensioners for every serving soldier.
A soldier costs the nation roughly Rs 20,000 per month, including salary, pension and training costs. Yet, a vast majority of them are employed in non-core skills like driving and serving as orderlies. The army has over one lakh drivers and an equal number of sahayaks (orderlies). In foreign armed forces, only senior-most officials are entitled to vehicles; the rest drive their own cars and get an allowance.
Even as it hankers for state-of-the-art night-vision devices and main-battle tanks, the army has not made even the simplest advances in civilian supply chain management to improve its unwieldy logistics tail. Take, for example, procurement of vehicles from the private sector. These are first sent to godowns in Mumbai from where they are dispatched to field areas. Yet another glaring example is the huge depot in Allahabad where the army procures and stores items with low shelf-life, like paints and welding rods. [IT]
The Sixth pay commission can certainly do a lot for the Indian armed forces. A decent (and real) hike in salary would be an icing on the cake, but the cake patty would have to be rightsizing the Army. Unfortunately, the pay commission can’t do much about another major ill plaguing the army – an anachronistic organisational culture. That is another story by itself… for another day.
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