The leaked excerpts from an internal study of the Army advocating the concept of three-year Tour of Duty is yet another reminder that the military hierarchy revels in using media to make politically loaded statements and as a sounding board for its ‘hunch and gut’ ideas, often in complete disregard of the repository of knowledge available. Most of these ideas come to a nought after detailed examination.
The Tour of Duty proposal, which aims to reduce the burden of defence pensions and make up for the shortage of officers in the Army, is more in tune with the current Right-wing flavour of the nation and carries political undertones. “Unemployment in our country is a reality, however there is a resurgence of nationalism and patriotism,” reads the proposal.
It should be clear to the discerning reader that the Tour of Duty is a poorly conceived scheme, which falls short of both individual and organisational needs. Internal surveys of the armed forces over the years have indicated that patriotism is not the main motivation for joining it. A stable, well-paid job is. Since the Israel model of three-year military service is a favourite of the right wing, it is pertinent to mention that it is conscripted mandatory national service and not driven by patriotism per se. To even think of neo-nationalism as a motivator is most dangerous. We will only end up creating potential political militias.
Also, the Tour of Duty should be for a minimum of five years to enable the individuals to earn gratuity as per government policy. It should be covered by the National Pension Scheme and 50 per cent intake should be based on this. The Narendra Modi government should make the scheme as attractive as its finances allow and through preferential treatment in all spheres of government activity post-retirement. The terms and conditions should be very clear and withstand judicial scrutiny. Here’s why it’s important.
Essentials of the leaked excerpts
The leaked four-page excerpt from the report is silent on the actual scheme but highlights the financial savings and other benefits likely to accrue. Further details of the report acknowledged to be at a “nascent stage” were willingly amplified by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and Army’s spokesperson.
Basically, the proposed model of ‘Tour of Duty’ will induct officers and soldiers for a three-year tenure. The pay scale will be at par with the regular Army without any pension or mandated “severance package”. However, battle casualties and disabled soldiers will be treated at par with regular soldiers.
The very nature of the scheme will ensure that a trained, disciplined, confident, diligent and committed workforce is available for government jobs and to the corporate world. The leaked document hopes for it to happen but accepts that the Modi government may not make the three-year Tour of Duty a mandatory criterion for central/state government jobs. Salaries may be tax free, and a token retirement grant of Rs 5-6 lakh may be given to officers and Rs 2-3 lakh to soldiers, with an advisory-for preferential consideration for jobs in academic institutions and public sector undertakings.
There is also a linked scheme — “inverse induction” — for officers/soldiers of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), who will be inducted into the armed forces for a three-year Tour of Duty and then go back to the CAPF.
The main advantage of Tour of Duty is the exponential reduction in the salary and pension bill once the scheme takes off. The scheme will also improve the career prospect of regular soldiers and officers.
A soldier is the most costly element of the military budget. Governments generally provide the best for them, from the time of joining until their death. A soldier’s spouse continues to get 50 per cent of their pension and other benefits.
Short service schemes, voluntary or mandated, have been in vogue for centuries. It is the most cost-effective measure to reduce military budgets. At times, when there is a shortage of people to join the force due to low population like in Israel or due to lack of volunteers during prolonged wars, governments resort to conscription — mandatory military service for a fixed tenure.
Indian armed forces have extensive experience of such schemes. In World War 2, the British Indian Army strength went up from 2 lakh to 25 lakh and was down to 3.5 lakh by 1948. The terms and conditions were kept simple — to serve as long as required by the government. Most went home with a token gratuity liable after five years of service with no pension.
After the Second World War, we had the colour service (7-10 years) and reserve service (8-15 years) scheme. During reserve service, the soldier received no pay but was paid a stipend when attending annual training for two months. At the end of 15 years, the soldier was granted a reservist pension, which was much lower than a regular soldier’s pension. This was a very effective scheme but our own policies citing “retention of trained manpower” and “welfare” ended it and introduced the mandatory minimum service of 15 years to earn pension.
Even for officers, we had the Emergency Commission introduced in 1962 and Short Service Regular Commission (SSRC) in 1966. In the case of the Emergency Commission, the terms of service were clear — for as long as the service was required. For the SSRC, the mandated service was five years. Both the schemes had no pension liability. Those who were not granted regular commission were released from service with gratuity paid after five years. Again citing “retention of trained manpower” and “welfare”, the government/Army tweaked the policy to first grant extension of five years and then making it a 10-year scheme extendable up to 14 years.
Old wine in a new bottle
Currently, we have a well established Territorial Army. Civilians are trained as soldiers/officers and embodied for service as and when required while their civilian jobs remain secure. Territorial Army units have performed creditably in war and counter-insurgency.
To give military experience even to the youth, we have the National Cadet Corps (NCC) with enrolment ranging between 13 and 15 lakh. Their annual day or Jamboree has been traditionally attended by the prime minister since 1948. We also had the practice of their attachment with units in operational areas.
India is a workforce-intensive country and there has never been any dearth of volunteers for enrolment as soldiers and officers. There should be no doubt that an attractive short term scheme, which strikes a balance between the standards of training and operational requirements of the armed forces and needs of the individual, is the most cost-effective method of managing military budgets. The real issue is the terms and conditions that have to be laid down by the Modi government.
Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post-retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.