New Delhi: Even as the Army is looking at a three-year voluntary stint, or ‘Tour of Duty’, to boost recruitment, a five-year-old proposal to making the Short Service Commission (SSC) lucrative and practical is still pending.
The proposal had been formulated by a group of experts constituted by the Ministry of Defence.
While questions have been raised on the financial viability of the Tour of Duty and of carrying out training of individuals and losing them in the two-three years, the 2015 report had asked the ministry to revert to the minimum five years of short service rather than the now 10 years.
In an interaction with the media on 14 May, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat had said the Tour of Duty concept is still at a nascent stage and under the Army chief’s consideration. If it works out, it’s good, he said, but added that its viability needs to be studied.
“It will require a year of training. The tour of duty will be in Kashmir and the Northeast,” he said. “One year of training costs… Equipping him and doing everything for him and then losing him after four years. Is it going to balance out? It will require a study.”
As reported by ThePrint earlier, the Tour of Duty is for three-four years, which also includes training period. While the Army is keenly studying this, the CDS is looking at making the SSC more attractive.
Solution could be in 2015 report
The solution to the recruitment debate could lie in the 2015 report.
The expert committee, in its 509-page report, had listed 75 recommendations in areas concerning service and pension matters, discipline and vigilance issues, matters concerning promotions and confidential reports, military justice, issues related to civilian employees and other potential areas of disputes.
It noted that the SSC is a very important scheme for individuals who would not like to make the defence services their permanent vocation and a scheme that would also cater to the shortage of officers in the three services.
For a long time prior to 2006, the SSC was applicable for a period of five years, extendable for another five years and then for a further four years.
A person released after five years was granted gratuity and also ex-serviceman status, having been released on completion of terms of engagement.
In 2006, however, ostensibly to make SSC more attractive, the earlier 5+5+4 years system was changed to 10+4 years, thereby making the initial tenure of 10 years mandatory for earning benefits, including ex-serviceman status.
“Though from the organisational point of view, a period of 10 years may seem important so as to retain officers for a sufficient period, however from the point of view of an individual, the said period in a way becomes exploitative since neither is a person granted pension nor guaranteed employment after 10 years thereby leaving him or her “neither here nor there” at an important phase of life thereby setting him/her back by 10 years as compared to other peers from civil life,” the committee noted.
It felt that to balance out the rights between the organization and individuals, “the scheme needs to be reverted back to 5+5+4 years so that a person has the option for release after 5 years of service to enable him/her to start afresh on the civil side with the additional skills gained in the defence services”.
Sources told ThePrint that the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar was actively discussing the idea of reverting SSC to the 5+5+4 system when he was moved out as Goa CM in 2017.
They said Parrikar wanted to bring SS officers on the contributory New Pension System (NPS) on par with civilians and further expand the scheme to bring down pension bill by keeping SS officers on NPS on par with a similar short service entry scheme of the Indian Coast Guard.
10-year service makes it difficult to start afresh: Report
The report had also highlighted that it is difficult to start afresh in the civilian world once a SSC tenure ends. It must be appreciated that when a person is released from the military after 10 years of service, he or she is in his early 30s which is an age when it becomes difficult to start new innings, the report said.
“However, in case the organization feels that it is more beneficial to retain officers for at least 10 years, then additionally, to attract and retain talent, the Ministry could provide higher pay-outs and benefits to all those who serve for 10 years and still higher to those who serve till 14 years,” it added. “Hence, a graded structure of benefits can be incorporated for officers who serve for 5, 10 and 14 years.”
It also recommended a Contributory Pension Scheme on the lines of the NPS be considered for all future SSC officers who serve for a minimum 10 years.
Gen Rawat has said the military is looking at offering incentives to make the prospect more appealing for applicants.
“For an officer who will just serve for 14 years, you don’t want to give him a pension, what then can you do for them? Can you give him training that will make him stand on his feet?” Rawat said.
As an incentive, a lump sum amount should also be paid to the SSC officers on retirement, he added. “We are yet to decide on the amount,” he said.
Incidentally, the MoD has implemented two recommendations.
Earlier, only outpatient medical facilities were granted to short service officers in military hospitals but on recommendations of the committee of experts they were granted ECHS facilities with full outpatient facilities and truncated inpatient reimbursement for serious diseases.
Earlier, ex-servicemen status was granted only to those who completed the terms of SSC, for example five or 10 years, and not to those who sought release during extended terms. This was also deprecated by the committee and the Delhi High Court.
A clarification has been issued that SS officers who are released during extended terms will also now be granted “ex-serviceman” status.
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