Will the ‘Tour of Duty’ initiative woo talent?

The proposal to offer three-year service in Indian Army may help in pruning defence budget and make Army leaner. However, the consequence of such move could be counter-productive

In recent times, the Indian Army has made two major proposals. While one proposal moots raising the retirement age of troops of the three armed forces, the other “Tour of Duty” proposes three years service for officers. It appears that the proposal to raise the retirement age is aimed at immediate reduction in the post retirement benefits. Will this ensure that trained manpower stays longer while the other proposal is able to attract talent?

The proposal disclosed by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, for a jawan to serve for 30 years rather than only 15-17 years makes sense as it will benefit about 14 lakh personnel. Not only this, this would also mean deferring the post retirement benefits for a decade or so.  We know that pension accounts for a major expenditure on Defence as the pension budget for 2020-21 is 1.33 lakh crore. It is consistently going up year after year. For instance it was 1.1 lakh crore in 2019-20. Similarly, the expenditure spent on a short service commissioned officer is about 6-7 crore. The SSB is offered for 10+4 years.

Now the question arises as to will the proposal to ask talented youth to join the Army for three years really attract talent and meritorious youngsters? Instead of admitting that this is an effort to prune defence budget and to make Army more leaner, the move is being given the name of “Tour of Duty”. Indeed the consequence of such a move could be counter productive. The Army has been short of officers for long and at present there is shortage of about 12000 officers.

At this stage it was expected that the new proposal should have been to absorb short service commission officers serve beyond 14 years as about 80-90 per cent officers coming through SSB’s seek extension in service beyond 10+4. They want to be absorbed as Permanent Commissioned Officers. The dichotomy is that most SSB officers after 10 or 14 years find themselves at cross doors of readjustment in their careers. When SSB officers find it hard to face life after 10 to 14 years of service, how will officers with three years in Army adjust in civilian roles? There is no doubt that even SSB has not been able to attract talent despite strict and rigorous selection process how will Army lure talented youngsters for a service of just three years? They will be looking for jobs after three years and impact even Army’s stature in public minds and society.

A long and sustained period of training for truncated service in the uniform will not be cost-effective and will make the army a supplier of recruits for the governments, public and private sector. However, instead of experimenting by introducing a new scheme in the form of Tour of Duty the Army could have reviewed and modified the short service commission. The existing 10-14 years results in an officer shedding his uniform when he is in his mid or late thirties. That makes his lateral switch to a private-sector job difficult.

Another reason given for three years commission is “resurgence of nationalism and patriotism”, and the fact that “unemployment in our country is a reality.” It is learnt that the “tour of duty” is for youths who “do not want to make defence services their permanent vocation, but still want to experience the thrill and adventure of military professionalism”.  It was also learnt that “the proposal is a shift from the concept of permanent service/job in the Armed Forces, towards ‘internship’/temporary experience for three years. Unemployment in our country is a reality, however there is resurgence of nationalism and patriotism.” According to officials, the “major crux” lies in making the proposal “attractive to the government, Armed Forces, corporates and most importantly the individuals” who opt for it. Sources said that there is a proposal that the individual’s earnings for the three-year period could be made tax-free, and he or she could be given preference in public sector jobs as well as post-graduate courses. Officials further add that “the government may give an edge to such candidates in jobs in central government offices and in state government organizations and PSUs”.

The cost of a three-year service per officer will be a fraction of the cost incurred on Short Service Commission (SSC) officers. As mentioned earlier the cost incurred on an officer, who leaves after 10 or 14 years, is about Rs 6-7 crore 5 crore including the cost of pre-commission training, pay, allowances, gratuity, leave encashment among others. However, the cost for a three-year service will be less than Rs one crore. Officials say that the new proposal would help to “channelise the youth energy into positive utilization of their potential” and the three years of Army service which involves “rigorous military training and habits inculcated will lead to healthy citizenry”. The Army would as such create better citizens and the whole nation will benefit from “trained, disciplined, confident, diligent and committed”.

Noting that the proposed scheme will be on trial basis with limited vacancies, the Army has said that “it can be expanded further, if found successful”. To begin with the Indian Army is considering to allow common citizens to join the 1.3-million-strong force for a three-year tenure to serve the nation under the ‘Tour of Duty or ‘Three Years Short Service’ scheme. Officials opine that the move would be a “game-changing” idea.

According to Col Aman Anand, Spokesperson for the Army, “If approved it will be a voluntary engagement and there will be no dilution in selection criteria. Initially, 100 officers and 1,000 men are being considered for recruitment as part of test bedding of the project.”

The Army’s plan is to attract the best talent into the force and bring the civil society closer to the force by giving them an opportunity to experience military life. If the scheme is given the green signal, then the young generation, which wishes to experience the military life, but does not want to opt for it as a full-time career option, cab benefit from it.

According to a report of Standing Committee of Defence, 2019, the deficiency in officer cadre of Indian Army stood at approximate 14 per cent. The Army had 42,253 officers and 11.94 lakh jawans according to the report. The Indian Navy had 10,000 officers and 57,310 personnel.

Under the Short Service Commission, a person can serve in the force for a maximum of 10 years extendable by four years. It is learnt that the top brass in the Army is also reviewing the Short Service Commission to make it more attractive for the youth. Initially, the Short Service Commission was started with five years minimum service but later it was extended to 10 years extendable by another four years.