Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said Tuesday that the retiring age of armed forces personnel, those below the rank of officers, should be extended to 58, from the current 37-38, to reduce the defence pension bill and enhance services. Pensions account for 28 per cent of the overall expenditure of India’s defence ministry.
ThePrint asks: CDS Bipin Rawat on military retirement age at 58: Is greying army a good or dangerous idea?
Modi govt pays a lot of lip-service and symbolism to national security, but fails to put money where the mouth is
Maj Gen. Ashok Kumar Mehta (Retd)
Increasing military retirement age to 58 years is an utterly bad idea, especially as a solution for raising funds for modernisation on account of soaring pension bills. Further, you cannot have a greying Army and expect it to meet counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency missions within our country’s borders.
More importantly, there is no guarantee that the money saved by these measures will be provided for defence modernisation programmes. We have a precedent for this. In the late ’90s, when General Ved Prakash Malik was the army chief, he cut the size of the army by 50,000 personnel to save on Rs. 500 crore at the end of the year. This amount was meant to be added on to the capital expenditure, but that did not happen. Governments excel in false promises.
The CDS should tell the central government in no uncertain terms that the modernisation budget over the last 5 years has been as flat as a chapatti at a time when India faces a two-front threat from Pakistan and China. There are huge voids in defence capability vis-a-vis the threat from China and those cannot be made good unless additional funds are provided to the Army.
This government pays a lot of lip-service and symbolism to national security but fails to put money where the mouth is. Winning elections, singing surgical strikes is now ad nauseam. Monies are needed in the short term before institutional surgery.
Extending retirement age of combat soldiers unacceptable, but can be selectively applied depending on functional needs
Lt Gen. (Dr) Prakash Menon
Director, Strategic Studies Programme, Takshashila Institution
The idea of keeping the military young is rooted in the nature of war. Danger, fear, risk and uncertainty are constant characteristics that are applicable to soldiers in combat. So, whether it is wars of the future or wars fought in any other age of the distant past, the ambience of combat will remain unchanged. It is axiomatic that a young military is the natural preference. However, there are many functions within the military that are performed by personnel who are not expected to be subjected to similar rigours of combat conditions. These functions are primarily in the domain of logistics and administration, whose primary purpose is to provide support for sharpening the lethality of the military’s combat elements.
So, while increasing the retirement age of combat soldiers is unacceptable, it can to some extent be selectively applied depending on functional requirements, including migrating combat soldiers after they have passed their prime into logistics and administrative tasks. But this would not solve in any significant manner the problem of the burgeoning defence pension. The solution, perhaps, lies in establishing a flow between the armed forces and the police forces. Takshashila Institution’s Discussion Document provides a way forward.
CDS Rawat’s comments should not be seen as casting doubts on resilience of Army when it comes to combat
Lt Gen. Satish Dua (Retd)
Former chief of Integrated Defence Staff, Indian Army
The question is an oversimplification and it implies an ushering in of a greying, fatigued Army. I believe Chief of Defence Staff Gen Rawat’s comments were in reference to the technical manpower of the Army, which is not in front-line combat, such as paramedics, electrical and mechanical engineers. As a fringe-benefit, this would lead to delayed pensions that would save the exchequer a lot of pain and money and provide a temporary reprieve to the revenue expenditure of the defence budget.
Advancements in technology call for an even greater need for technical manpower to serve longer in the Army and sharpen their skill sets. After all, 35 or 37 years of age is no time to retire after being inducted at 18 years or so.
Take for example an engineer who deals with missile systems. When such an engineer retires in their 30s, the only close-to-appropriate job for him/her would be in software. The engineer’s choices are limited. If he/she were to stay on, the person would have more opportunities to become grey with wisdom.
I don’t think CDS Bipin Rawat’s comments should be seen as casting doubts on the resilience of the Indian Army when it comes to combat, in fact, it is moving with the times because better healthcare allows for some soldiers to serve longer than the current retirement age.
India always had jawans retiring at 30-35 yrs. It would be better to transfer them to CRPF or state police
Lt Gen. S.R. Ghosh (Retd)
Former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C), Western Command
The need to reduce the military pension bill is critical. However, doing so by increasing the retirement age of soldiers carries the inherent danger of India being saddled with a greying army. It will not be able to cope with the rigours and challenges of serving in difficult terrains or being in combat, especially when pitted against a younger enemy army. If at all, a limited number of soldiers could be given extended service, but only in non-combat and non-combat support units.
Moreover, retirement age extension will only reduce the pension bill temporarily till the cycle restarts again. When the soldier retires after finishing two times the service that he/she is doing now, he/she will also expect his/her pension to be doubled.
Finally, cutting down on fresh recruitment will deny employment to a large segment of India’s youth.
There has always been an issue of jawans retiring at the age of 30-35, at their prime. It would be much better to transfer this group of young, highly-trained and disciplined men and women to the Central Armed Police Forces (CRPF) or the state police forces.
This would ensure an annual transfer of 50,000 personnel to the police forces, thus, making savings on the Army’s pension bill as also cutting down the cost of training fresh recruits in the police forces.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint
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