Friday, 13 February 2009

Shortage of Officers in the Indian Armed Forces – A Sign of Serious Class Prejudice?

The Indian army has been facing a shortage of officers for some time now. This BBC report says that the Indian army is more than 11,000 officers short. The Indian Navy and Indian Air Force too face a similar shortage. The Air Force needs another 6,000 officers and the Navy another 3,000.

Ever since the private sector in India started to boom, the armed forces have not been topping the list of favoured careers for India ’s youth. India ’s generals, admirals and air marshalls complain that the armed services cannot compete with the private sector in terms of pay and perks.

However, the above is just one side of the story. Here’s the other side. Whenever the Indian army wants to recruit men (that is jawans or privates, not officers), they do so through a recruitment rally. Very large numbers of Indian youth throng these rallies. Not everyone gets recruited. For example, a month ago, more than 50,000 young men came forward to enroll themselves in the Indian Army at a recruitment rally organised in the Samba district of Jammu and Kashmir. Of the 50,000 who turned up, only 10,000 were found to be fit enough to be hired.

Once in a while, there are stampedes at these rallies and young men get killed.

Yes, there is no shortage of men willing to join the army as privates or jawans.

The obvious question which arises is, why don’t some of the non-officer personnel get promoted as officers? I don’t have statistics, but I don’t think many of our jawans get promoted to ranks beyond Subedar Major (Sergeant Major).


The Indian army has not got over its colonial hangover. Take a look at this video. It shows a large group of officer cadets eating in old colonial style and being served by men who are most probably army privates. (Update: I have been informed that at the Indian Military Academy, officer-cadets are hired by trained waiters specifically hired for that purpose. However, in officers' messes, privates serve the officers) The Indian armed forces have not made a serious attempt to make themselves more egalitarian. For example, officers are still provided with batmen. In this day and age, making privates/naval ratings and airmen work for their officers as servants is so disgusting!

The answer to the problem of officer shortage seems simple and straightforward. The armed forces should make it possible for its non-commissioned ranks to enter the hallowed officer class. The emphasis should be less on speaking perfect English and more on having the necessary skill-set and willingness and ability to learn. The Indian armed forces are almost a million strong and of this, the majority are non-officers. Surely it will be possible to select a few thousand of the brightest and best NCOs and JCOs and make officers out of them?

I found a five-year old news item which showed the Indian Air Force thinking on these lines. Since the Air Force still has a shortage of officers, I don’t think it has persisted with what it started in 2003.

11 comments:

Ashutosh said...

Well you may like to ponder over the fact that while recruitting soldiers there is no test of psychology or leadership potential. In any organisation it is the leadership which counts. It is not about filling numbers. A lot of candidates are rejected by the service selection board(SSB) due to lack of officer like qualities of leadership attributes, self confidence, team work, honesty etc. May be that you are not aware of the percentage of grads rejected by the SSB.
There already exists scheme in the three services for jawans and NCO to appear in the SSB interview. They are even coached by the units and formations for the same.In fact it is a matter of pride for the unit if their jawans make it to officer grade.The scheme is called ACC (army cadet college) entry. And, english is not a mandatory language requirement in the SSB, excellent comunication skill is.Please do some research before posting or army bashing seems to be the trend these days.
It is very easy to sit in front of a laptop and type that the entire world is full idoits. The issue is not that of numbers, it is that of right people in those numbers. And yes those colonial style dinner is one of the ways in which you attract talent, by way of honour, prestiege. People never joined army for money, they did it for lifestyle, for the high of leadership. Since the importance of money has increased in society so the number in army has decreased. The people you see serving are not combatants but specifically recruited waiters or stewards as they are called these days. the officer cadets are having dinner like you have with your freinds at a resturant but the difference is that they have the meal after shedding sweat and blood in training. Many will give their lives for this country while you will sleep in your comfortable bed. Almost all of them who survive will spend more than half of their lifetime away from their families for pittance of a salary for which may be you won't ever consider working while staying with your family in your city comforts.
ONCE AGAIN LET ME TRY TO PUT IT THIS WAY, IT IS NOT ABOUT NUMBERS BUT ABOUT THE RIGHT PEOPLE, HAVING CERTAIN APTITUDE,IQ AND LOTS OF JOSH. It is not that you need X number of people and you pick up the first X number that you come accross.

Aggi said...

If only the solution was as simplistic. Yes, it would be ideal if adequate number
of officers could be found from within the ranks. Not that it hasn't been tried out. However, for the Army cadet College and SCO entries set up for this purpose, adequate number of candidates found fit for officer’s rank can not be found year after year.

The reason for non-qualification is not English skills as suggested. SSB is a comprehensive selection process that primarily focuses on the psychologies make up and ‘Officer Like Qualities' of the candidates. Believe me, these are not merely hypothetical attributes that can be shrugged off. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the leadership qualities required to induce men to follow you under threat of loss of life and limb, and yet emerge victorious, are of exceptional order. The ratio of Officers to Other Ranks casualties in any of our wars speak for itself. In Kargil, it Was 30 officers for 500 JCOs / Or. This implies one officer killed for every 20 others.

Viewed in the backdrop of the organisational structure, what I am trying to say becomes clearer. In an infantry Company the authorized Officers to Other Ranks ratio works out to appnximatelyi 1: 6, i.e. there are two officers and 120 or so Other Ranks. Thus, if in theory a group of 60 men in an operation are to be led by an officer, in practice 1 officer is dying for 20 others. The officers are obviously going above and beyond the call of duty to achieve objectives. The stakes - we are all aware. Therefore, if at the selection level the standards in the leadership qualities are compromised, we might end up with more number of officers, but whether they will be able to deliver in battle is any body's guess. In my opinion, this is a chance we as a nation can not take. As you may be aware that the shortage of officers or candidates for the academies is not because of the lack of applicants but because majority of those applying are not up to the mark. For similar reasons, the bar is not being lowered for direct applicants also.

About other issues mentioned - messes are required in the army because most of the time people are posted away from their homes and families - often at places where it is impossible to make individual arrangements for boarding and lodging -not that doing so individually is either desirable or feasible due to nature of the job and organisation. The staff utilized for serving cadets in the academies are hired civillians (like in any college mess / canteen)-only they are probably better groomed / trained to serve. The mess staff in units are soldiers all right, but they are ‘tradesmen’, i.e. waiters, cooks etc and are enrolled as such – not as combat soldiers. Till Some time back, such staffs used to come under the category of ‘followers’ and were not considered as soldiers. However, considering that they are also in the line of fire when located in the combat zone, they were converted to uniformed soldiers, albeit performing the same tasks as before. Enrollement criteria such as physical standards are also less stringent for these categories.

Also, orderlies or ‘sahayaks’ are by no means 'servants' as you have implied. Admittedly, a section of people misuse this traditional system, but these are exceptions, and the system does have inherent checks and balances to deal with aberrations.

The basic issue raised in your post – that of shortage of officers, is indeed a live and critical one. Also, the problem is definitely resolvable, provided there is adequate will to push necessary measures through. One workable solution is given here - for obvious reasons, the bureaucracy would never allow such measures.

It is definitely a heartening trend that more and more people are now taking note of the challenges being faced by the armed forces, writing about them and thinking of solutions. A better understanding of nuances of the issues invloved, however, would make a huge difference in the relevance of these.

Winnowed said...

Ashutosh and Aggi, thank you for your insightful comments.

I agree with Ashutosh that “while recruiting soldiers there is no test of psychology or leadership potential”. I also agree that “it is not about numbers but about the right people, having certain aptitude, IQ and lots of josh.”

I agree with Aggi that “the leadership qualities required to induce men to follow you under threat of loss of life and limb, and yet emerge victorious, are of exceptional order.”

However, I think my basic premise stands – that the armed forces don’t seem to be doing enough to promote men from the ranks into officer grade. Let me explain once again using the army as an example:

A Sepoy in the Indian army can be promoted to the following NCO ranks: Lance-Naik, Naik, Havildar, Company Quarter Master Havildar, Company Havildar Major, Regimental Quarter Master Havildar, Regimental Havildar Major. After this you have the JCO ranks: Naib Subedar, Subedar and Subedar Major. I understand that officers are now commissioned as Lieutenant and the rank of Second Lieutenant has been done away with. Lieutenants go on to be promoted to Captain, Major, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, Brigadier etc.

A sepoy does not pass an officer’s psychological aptitude test when he is recruited. However, when he is promoted to Lance-Naik and other higher ranks, doesn’t he show some higher aptitude and quality than his peers? It takes 10 promotions for a sepoy to become a Subedar Major. Should such a Subedar Major have to pass the SSB exams in order to become a Lieutenant? I would argue not. A Subedar Major is one who has already proven himself in various ways and if his superiors (not the SSB) decide he is officer material, he should be sent for a brief training course at the IMA and made a Lieutenant. He shouldn’t have to do the entire training course which newly recruited officers do. If many more JCOs were to be promoted to officer grade, the shortage of middle-ranking officers will disappear.

I have an issue with many of the other contentions which Ashutosh and Aggi have made. You say that in order to attract men to join the army (as officers) it is necessary to have ceremonial dining, orderlies and other perks. I agree. However, it has been possible to attract so many hundreds of thousands of men to join the army as sepoys who get none of these perks, hasn’t it? I do agree that a higher rank should involve more perks, but in this day and age, should officers get so much more than what the ranks get?

In the UK, only very senior officers are allotted batmen. Which brings me to the crux of the problem. The Indian army was structured by the British in such a way that there was a huge gap between the ranks and the officers. The JCOs, then called the Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers or VCOs were created to bridge that gap. There was no attempt to promote soldiers beyond that. Matters don’t seem to have changed much since the British left, though the Brits have move much beyond their own World War II standards. We still seem to be upholding all colonial traditions!

Let me use one more analogy. After India got independence, many British officers left the British Indian army and went back to their homes. This left the Indian army with many gaps in the officer class, all of which filled by giving rapid promotions to the Indian officers. And did those officers do well? Of course they did. Despite the lack of experience, they shouldered their new responsibilities admirably. To cite a famous example, Field Marshall Cariappa was only in charge of a unit in 1942. By January 1949, he had become the first Commander-in-Chief of an independent Indian Army! I’m sure that if our JCOs are given faster promotions and easier access to the officer class, they will all rise up to the occasion and show the necessary aptitude and josh (spirit).

I am glad that this post has generated some discussion on this point. At the end of the day, we all have the welfare of the Indian armed forces in mind.

Anonymous said...

Well as ashutosh and aggy said that our officers are being tested for psychology or leadership potential. I've one fact to say, i don't know the exact statistics but a lot of officer's son and daughters are joining the armed forces as an officer and it needs no elaboration that how much the sibblings of our great officers are being tested for and for what they are capable of. It is not only the leadership which counts because if it is so than our armed forces should not have survived till date. None of them is having the leadership qualities and nor it can be generated through training especially when one has the mindset of i am a son or daughter of an senior officer.Infact now it is just about filling numbers. None of the candidate is rejected by the service selection board(SSB) due to lack of officer like qualities of leadership attributes, self confidence, team work, honesty etc or any deficiency whatsoever who is coming with a DO letter. Yes media is surely not aware of many things which are being taken for granted. It is for sure that there are not right people being enrolled in those numbers.

Pragmatic said...

Winnowed:

Thanks for raising the issue. I've linked to your post at my blog. I have also put up the extracts of a very famous article by Lt General SK Sinha, which demolish a few myths being brandished around by the supporters of tradition. Link to the blogpost

Winnowed said...

Pragmatic, thanks for your support and for providing a link to my post in your blog.

Aggi said...

Answering the points raised by Winnows.

The shortage of officers is in the lower ranks only - up to Lt Col. In the recent years, a concerted
effort has been made to reduce the age profile of the commanding officers of fighting units, resulting in it coming down from approx 40 to 36 years. And the results are also evident - at least three Commanding Officers have recently laid down their lives leading anti-terrorist operations from the forefront.
Regular officers get commissioned at the age of 21 - 24. Even for ACC / SCO entries mentioned in my previous comment, the age profile is younger as the deserving personnel are selected early in their service.A Subedar Major reaches that rank at about 45 years of age. Promoting him to a
Lieut at that age would not serve the purpose, as at that rank you require young people, energetic and capable of leading men from the front. In such a scenario, having junior officers who are 40 - 45 years old would be counter productive to say the least.

Nevertheless, the avenues for deserving NCOs / JCOs who display potential at a late stage in service are available through SL
(Special List) and Regimental Commission. These are primarily utilized for Quartermaster and Record Office duties, owing to the age profile. Once again, adequate number of appropriate candidates are not available to fulfill these vacancies, resulting in only about half the units being able to have such quartermasters at any given time.

The avenues already exist, and people are definitely encouraged to strive towards making use of these opportunities - particulary at the unit and formation level, with special coaching classes etc being organised for those appearing. What, in your views, are the steps that the organisation can take to
ensure more number of Other Ranks are promoted to officer ranks (Other than lowering the bar for
selection standards)?

About the redundancy of the JCO rank as vestige of the colonial era - there is a lot of merit in the idea. Unfortunately in light of very few Jawans actually making it to officer rank, promotion to JCO is the only incentive that they have. In fact, to prevent denying this incentive, direct recruitment of JCOs has not been accepted by the authorities, although this is a successful model in police and paramilitary forces, and another possible way of dealing with officer shortage. The system of having experienced JCOs is not without its merit, and the better JCOs play a crucial role in grooming and guiding young officers who benefit tremendously from the experience of the former.

As regards the anonymous comments about officers offsprings joining the forces, they appear to be unduly judgemental and sweeping, with nothing to substantiate the views expressed.

Anonymous said...

The most painful experience for an army officer is supersession. Unlike IAS officers who get promoted just by seniority, army officers have to face a stiff competition to rise to the rank of Colonel and above. Very few people may be aware of this fact. Pyramidal structure is a reason given for this saying that only one officer can become the chief etc.
If people come to know about this aspect of an officer's career, the shortfall will significantly increase. In private sector, we have a very good choice to quit a company and join other on a higher level and pay. Unfortunately for a superceded Lt.Col. It is very difficult to do this although possible.
Supersession hurts and I have seen some officers loosing on their health and approach towards life. If government ignores this serious problem, shortfall will significantly increase. This problem has solutions and can be resolved.

Anonymous said...

AT PRESENT THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF OFFICERS IN DEFENCE . THIS IS JUST ATRICK TO FOOL THE GOVT SO THAT MAXIMUM BENEFITS CAN BE GIVEN TO OFFICERS. AS THEY KNOW NO ONE FROM GOVT WILL COME O CARRY OUT ACTUAL AUDIT OF NUMBER.AFTER AV SINGH COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATION'S IMPLEMENTAION THE PROMOTION AGE FOR OFFICRES HAS COME TO HALF. WHERE AS THOSE OF PBORS HAS BECOME DOUBLE.IN REALITY THERE IS SHORTAHE OF JAWANS. AND AFTER TAHTA THEY GET ONLY TWO 2 RANK WHEREAS FOR SAME PERIOD AN OFFICER GETS 5 RANKS.A JAWAN SUFFERS MOST AND HE GETS LOWEST MSP.

Anonymous said...

TAKE THE SSB MANY SENIOR OFFICERS HAS BEEN CAUGHT IN SCAMS.IS THERE ANY ENQUIRY TO FIND OUT WHO HAS CHECKED THEM FOR INTEGRITY, LOYALNESS AND PATRITISM??? ANSWER IS NO. IN DEFENCE SELECTION IS 100 % BASE ON MERELY OF SSB. WHICH NEVER DISPLAY IT'S RESULT FOR ALL CANDIDATE LIKE FOE IAS UPSC DECLARES RESULT . AND ONE CAN CHECK HIS EVALUATION. SELECTION OF OFFFICER AND OF AN IAS IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT. WHY 100 % WEIGHTAGE IS GIVEN TO INTERVIEW. WHY IT IS NOT RESTRICTED TO A % LIKE 20%, 25% ETC. NO OTHER EXAM HAS SUCH INTERVIEW WHICH HAS FINALLY WORDING. NO OUTSIDER COMES SSB. NO MEMBER OF upsc. THIS IS TOTALLY INHOUSE. WHICH DRAW QUESTION MARK.

Abc said...

I agree with the previous comments. Its all about making the fool to govt as well as citizens of india. Indeed there would be a big scam in recruitment if it is opened as like as upsc exams. Here no evaluation is shown to the candidates that why he has been rejected. Where is shortfall in SO CALLED OLQ. Now another aspect is that even in peace or in war time the dependency of officer more on the shoulder of jco and jawan. Then what is the use of such selection thru ssb. Even there are so many tech posts which don't require these OLQ e.g AEE Civ, AEE e/m,BSO,AO,tech offr in eme/sig but still the british colonial practice is followed. So its all about dictatorship of offrs.