Army Officers Cadre: Need for Positive Restructuring

Indian Army Officers are a class apart. That is why lakhs of young boys barely in their teens aspire and compete to join the profession of arms, which has traditionally been looked upon reverentially as ‘a calling’? The Huntington criterion for the Army was ‘a sense of responsibility to something greater than the individual.’ The profession denotes a strong inner impulse to face formidable challenges of life and death, a fascination for uniform and a strong feel of nationalism – which propels the youngsters towards travails of Army life.  This calling transcends self interest and remains associated with self sacrifice, dedication and intense subunit/unit bonding – beyond imagination!

What is the Issue?

It is apparent, that the armed forces are gearing for major change in Integrated Theatre Commands, some likely within the current year 2021. Tri-service organisations are a reality, and the difference in service profile of equivalent ranks is irksome in managing command and control. These will have deep repercussions on the Officer Cadre, as the three services follow dissimilar career path in entirety. The Hon’ble Supreme Court with the decision of 25 March 2021 has declared that the evaluation criteria adopted by the Indian Army to consider the grant of permanent commission (PC) for women officers to be “arbitrary and irrational.” There are proposals in open domain of varied kinds like delinking of Pay from Rank, reckoning of last one year of training period as service, direct entry (DE) JCOs Cadre as Feeder/ Support Cadre to Commissioned Officers, making Major General as minimum retirement rank for Regular Officers.  Apparently, the Army officers’ cadre is in for a churn, to say the least!

In fact, the Army officers career management policies have been under considerable strain for the last nearly twenty years and more. With the inevitability of change, four pointers need consideration. Firstly, a vision of the holisticness of the effects of change sought is essential. Since the days of the direction provided by varied Committees post Kargil War, the officers-management has not stabilised.  Obviously, the effect of decisions taken piecemeal, and without a study of long term ramifications, is felt when it becomes well nigh impossible to rewind or even correct. Officer’s management and changes thereof hence must be based on a well considered vision, and not tinkered to resolve a singular issue that may have many correlations which will rear their heads consequently and cause major grief.  Also these are not issues at the whims and fancies of the Army hierarchy. Even in a disciplined force, in the 21st Century, a semblance of democracy is imperative.

Second, organisational requirements are indeed paramount and intensive, for an operationally committed Army. Yet, we cannot push to background, individual officers’ motivational needs.  This includes a fair opportunity to rise in ranks. The steep pyramidical structure, as it exists in the Army, is counterproductive to effective officers management. The Army career is a steep pyramid, with only 0.8% rising to be Major General. No organisation can function efficiently, with nearly 30% of the entire officer-cadre at the cutting edge rank of Colonel, stagnated in permanence for over twenty years! As the saying goes, ‘… man without ambition is like a bird flying without direction’. In the posting-management of the non-empanelled work force, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs gets a quiet burial!   

Third, the capstone of the effective operational functioning of a unit is regimentation. In a unit, it is the officer-men relationship that propels result or outcome oriented performance. While change to improve is mandatory, yet the transition has to be mindful of importance of the character of an Army unit.  Nothing is more important in the organisation than this unique unit cohesive bonding that has time and again, and in all adversity, proven indispensible.

Fourth, invariably, many decisions of officers’ management cause serious consternation over time, even reach litigation in the Apex Court. The Apex Court and the AFTs, conscious of the opaque culture and to the excessively rule-book-based officers’ career management, do tend to consider the litigant officers pleas with considerable compassion. Court decisions on petitions of individual/group of officers provide solace to the litigants, these do often have corresponding negative effect on the satisfaction of many others. Hence, Army Officers litigation is increasing by leaps and bounds. The issue of organisational transparency and inclusive nature of decision making processes needs immediate revision.

What can the Policy Makers Do?

A large number of inescapable requirements have procrastinated for a very, very long time.  Five pathways are considered immediate and mandatory.  The first relates to Army with officer corps of over 43000 officers, with deficiency of about 13%. Is this deficiency Herculean, in that it effects operational efficiency? What would happen if this deficiency is made up?  Based on certain laid down parameters, minimum numbers (hard scale) as essential for performance of tasks are invariably maintained. The obvious fact is that with the current state of officer management, with only about 30% crossing first threshold of empanelment to Colonel, in case the deficiency is made up, the dissatisfaction of promotion will multiply exponentially.  To surmise and opine, if the Army freezes the officer strength to the current level or with say a 10% overall deficiency, there will be limited effect operationally or posting management. The HQ can be pruned to the benefit of sabre units. There is also need to examine this in the light of our NCOs and JCOs, who when tasked independently, have performed commendably. It is NOT the question of deficiency of officers that matters, as much as satisfaction levels of the officers’ cadre, in performing their tasks.

Second is the intake ratios of officers in PC and SSC affects the promotional vacancies from Lt Col to Colonel, with 1:1 ratio having being endorsed by the AV Singh Committee in 2003. Consequently the proposals made to the Government, to the 6th and 7th Pay Commissions (endorsed by them in their respective reports) and to Empowered Committees, have all fallen on the wayside, unheeded.  SSC is not sought after entry, as it causes mid-life crises for the officers who do not get PC in the Army, and there are no avenues for lateral absorption. This is evident simply by studying the intake at OTAs at Chennai and Gaya – the latter being grossly undersubscribed.

The proposals to incentivise SSC are in fact simple – either to absorb well trained and motivated officers’ post Army service in their prime years of life in the Government, or provide them opportunity to obtain civilian higher educational empowerment like MBA, LLB, M Tech or PhD that leads to assured placement in private sector. It gets increasingly inexplicable as to why such proposals to make SSC attractive have not seen the light of the day!  There can be three methods. One, best case scenario is absorption of SSC officers laterally in Government service, methodology, competence and aptitude can be worked out.  Two, in All India Services, study leave is granted to an officer in or out of India for higher studies, though with a continued service bond or payment of costs.  Without major change of policy, this must be made applicable to SSC officers to pursue say Executive MBA in a reputed Institute, which ‘places’ them later. Such liaison had been done previously with IIMs, to tailor courses/ placement for officers with 9 years’ service. Three, if the above two do not find favour, then the Army internally can transform Army Institute of Management (Kolkata/ Greater Noida), Technology (Pune) and Law (Pune/ Mohali), to conduct courses for SSC officers. The proposal to incentivise SSC is MOST important and cannot be inordinately delayed, it matters to the foundations of officer cadre management/satisfaction.

Second are the proposals for transforming PC intake. With SSC becoming attractive, the maximal PC intake required will be approximately 750 cadets annually.  The National Defence Academy (NDA), Technical Entry Scheme, in-service entry and say 25% SSC getting PC, will cater to requirements of permanent entry.  All graduate entries hence must be made into SSC, which will provide the correct balance with PC and 50% promotability at Colonel level.

Three, is the issue of in-service entries, which are aspirational and motivational for rank and file. This mode of intake has been witnessing constant experimentation, with Army Cadet Corps (ACC), Regimental Commission Officers (RCOs), Special Commissioned Officers (SCOs) and multitude of Special List (SL) officers in vogue.  That brings in the issue whether DE JCOs, absorbed in officers vacancies, will earn the respect of the rank and file vis-à-vis JCOs who have risen in Regimental life. In an operationally deployed unit, this will matter immensely in the willing response of the lead. Nor can all DE JCOs be guaranteed officer-rank.  It is opined that DE JCOs in the long run may litigate and demand promotion to Officer-rank and later command of unit. Similar problems have been faced in previously experimented in-service entries.  In Central Civil Services (where officers need to function individualistically), Group B Service entry becomes feeder to Group A. This cannot be equated to Army, where cohesion in a unit is of prime concern. It has been observed that a substantial number of recruits joining the Army are graduates. To simplify, all in-service entries must be merged, should have graduation as a criteria, should have a curtailed training period of say one year, and once inducted into the officer cadre, should rise in ranks to their individual competence, undistinguished from PC officers.

Fourth, are the women entry scheme. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has given a decision on Women Officers being granted permanent commission and command of units.  The decision of the Apex Court is behind us, and its implementation has to be managed with parity with male entry schemes and career orientation. The graduate entry as recommended above must be applied mutatis mutandis to women aspirants, as should be in following the career graph of the male officers.  This will have to be perforce a prospective policy, the Apex Court judgement must be applied to the existing women officers as per judgement.

In sum, there has been undue procrastination that has caused ill-will and needs to put behind.  All that has been stated above may not be new or original.  It may also be hyperbole and over-stating the obvious.  To ameliorate issues faced by the officers-cadre, there can be many ways, albeit status quo is not the answer. Let us get on, sooner the better!