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A look at the Territorial Army — The Indian military’s task force hit by the Manipur landslide

The Territorial Army, a part-time military organisation for Indians who may have other jobs, is essentially a volunteer force that can be quickly mobilised in the defence of a state.

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New Delhi: On the intervening night of Wednesday and Thursday, a Territorial Army Camp in Manipur’s Noney district, was hit by a landslide, leading to 38 deaths, including that of 23 soldiers.

Till now, 13 soldiers of the Territorial Army (TA) and five civilians have been rescued. The search is on for 38 missing people.

According to sources in the defence and security establishment, the soldiers belonged to the 107 Unit Territorial Army, affiliated with the Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army.

The TA is essentially a volunteer force that can be quickly mobilised in the defence of a state. It had been deployed near the Tupul yard railway construction site, since the rail link between Manipur to Jiribam in Assam was being developed here.

Unlike the regular Army, though, the soldiers from the TA have to complete a mandatory two-month embodiment, or service period, in a year. It does not provide them a full-time career. They have the option of returning to civilian life after the two months, but most jawans continue with their unit since, unlike officers, many may not have another source of livelihood.

In the Manipur incident, sources said that the soldiers were continuing with their embodiment and were posted like any regular soldier.

But what purpose does the Territorial Army serve? ThePrint explains.

Fundamentally, the Indian Territorial Army is a part-time military organisation for Indians who may have other jobs, but still wish to serve in the defence forces.

In the bookTerritorial Army: History of India’s Part-Time Soldiers, Surender Singh writes “Territorial Army is a force of amateur soldiers, who commit themselves to the defence of the nation”.

According to the Defence Service Regulations, Part I, the army has three main components — the ‘Regular Army’, the ‘Army Reserve’ and the ‘Territorial Army’.

The duties of the TA include “relieving the Regular Army from static duties”, while also providing assistance to civil authorities in times of natural calamities and tragedies, says the Indian Army website.

Further, they also help civil administration with providing essential services in areas where state machinery is stretched or there are security threats.

The TA has a strength of approximately 40,000 soldiers who serve in ‘Departmental Units’, like the Railways, Indian Oil Corporation, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation of India, and General Hospitals; and ‘Non-Departmental Units’, like the Infantry Battalions and Ecological Battalions.

Any citizen between the age of 18-42 can be a part of the service.

The pensionable age for a soldier below officer’s rank in the TA is the same as that of a regular soldier — 15 years.

Also, just like regular soldiers, the army can dismiss a TA soldier on various grounds, including indiscipline, before they reach 15 years of service. A dismissal disqualifies the soldier from the pension.

Those who join as officers in the TA also have similar service requirements, however, unlike the jawans, they usually fulfil their two months minimum requirement for embodiment and go back to their regular jobs.

Also read: This is the Spl Forces battalion Dhoni is headed for in J&K, here’s how Territorial Army works

A short history of the Territorial Army 

The origins of India’s Territorial Army can be traced to the days of the British Raj, when the British raised a territorial army through the Indian Territorial Act, 1920. This act divided the army into two parts — the Auxiliary Force and the Indian Territorial Force. The Auxiliary force was meant for the Europeans and Anglo-Indians, the Indian Territorial Force was for the Indians.

Post-independence, the Territorial Army Act, 1948, was passed, resulting in the formation of the current Indian Territorial Army. The Army was inaugurated by C. Rajagopalachari in October 1949.

Since 2020, the Indian military has been recalibrating the TA for better operational and intelligence roles, especially in the Andaman Islands to keep an eye out for possible Chinese intrusions in the region.

The TA units were also actively involved in operations during the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars.

The report has been corrected to reflect the stated retirement age for a Territorial Army personnel. 

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also Read: Territorial Army set for overhaul as voluntary force gets its first director general


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