The Indian Economy Blog

June 27, 2007

The Indian Army Part 4 & 5

Filed under: Basic Questions,Human Capital,Infrastructure,Miscellaneous — Pragmatic @ 9:32 pm

Res ipsa loquitur

The official figure for the shortage of officers in the Indian army is 24.1%, a shortfall of 11238 officers against an authorization of 46615.

Imagine the impact on the army budget, if all the deficiencies in the officer cadre were to be suddenly made up. The current revenue to capital expenditure ratio of 75:25 would go awry due to the increased salaries and subsequently, the amount budgeted for pensions would assume gargantuan proportions. It would also be a nightmare for the HR managers of the army, the bloating at the base of the steep pyramidical structure would further curtail the avenues for promotion, and lead to greater dissatisfaction among officers. However, one area in which the HR managers would breathe a sigh of relief would be resignations and premature retirements from the army. Currently, there are restrictions imposed by the army on officers desirous of moving out, with barely one-third applicants allowed to move out last year and that too after waiting for nearly a year. With the number of applicants for release reportedly multiplying this year, a full-strength officer cadre would be topmost on the wish list of army HR top brass.

As per the ministry’s annual report, the total number of officers commissioned in the army last year was over 2000 (422 from NDA, 685 from IMA, 493 from OTA and 407 from technical entries). This is barely sufficient to meet the regular wastage rate and incapable of denting the shortfall.

However, the number of officers reported to be commissioned from IMA in June this year itself has been 625, the highest ever since its inception. This increased intake seems to be one of the measures undertaken by the government to make up the deficiencies; the other being the increase in minimum service for short service and women officers from 5 to 10 years, and further extendable to 14 years.

The shortage of officers in the three services, and most notably the army, has been highlighted in the parliament time and again. It is purportedly done to play up the tough conditions that the army men (and women) are working under and to showcase the career preferences of today’s youth. It eventually ends up, justifiably, asking for better pay and perks for the army men to redress this anomaly.

The ostensible reasons for this shortage and the remedial measures have been covered extensively in the popular media and need no repetition. Notwithstanding the sophistry proffered by the military and civilian bureaucracy, a novel approach is imperative to resolve this complex issue.

Obviously, this huge shortage in the officer cadre did not occur overnight. It could have started either from a sudden increase in the authorised officer strength due to sudden expansion of the army or from a sharp reduction in the intake of officers. Most plausibly, it was a combination of the two, spread over a long period of time. But, it is bewildering that the crisis continued unabated and reached such calamitous proportions unnoticed.

What most people tend to overlook is an historical factoid which is germane to the problem. In the pre-independence era, plebeians joining as soldiers (as with clerks or subordinate officers in the civilian stream) were of a higher calibre than those joining today, as only the privileged elite could join as officers then. Most of the officers today would have, in all likelihood, joined as soldiers in that earlier era. With such an intelligent and professional subordinate cadre, the system worked smoothly in the pre-independence era. The legacy and the momentum kept it going for many years after the independence as well. When it was time to implement modern management practices and update the system, the political and military leadership was found wanting. A fair share of the incrimination needs to be apportioned to the complacency arising from the longueur between the 1971 victory and the Sri Lanka fiasco.

Besides, ‘officers’ in the Indian army parlance refers solely to the commissioned officers, not to the non-commissioned officers (NCO) and junior commissioned officers (JCO). The JCO is a rank unique to the sub-continental armies and a legacy of the British army; they were then called the Viceroy commissioned officers (VCO) and acted as a conduit between the British officers and Indian soldiers. There was no direct recruitment as a VCO. A recruit would become a VCO only by promotion and acted as a village or family elder. The units and regiments were clannish, more like an extended family or a village society, and the authority of the VCO flew largely from social, communal and filial obligations rather than from any official authority invested in him. The concept of the authority of the current JCO has not been redefined in the last 60 years, while the civil society, recruitment patterns and the organisational requirements have undergone a sea change.

At the first instance, it seems to be an issue extraneous to the debate on shortage of officers. However, it is nonplussing that with the shortages likely to stay and unlikely to be made up in the short term, the obvious answer to look within the organisation was never explored fully. The role and authority of the NCO in the US/ French/ Israeli armies should have been adapted for the JCO in the Indian army. This would have not only taken a lot of burden off the shoulders of the over-worked officers but would have also brought down the authorisation of officers in the long run, especially at junior levels.

There is another aspect of this shortage. When hostilities are imminent, a lot of peace time activities take a backseat and certain officers from non-fighting organisations viz., training schools, logistics establishments and administrative installations, are moved to the forward areas. As no war in the present scenario is likely to last more than a fortnight (even a localised conflict like Kargil was over in a couple of months), such temporary movement tends to offset the deficiencies in fighting units to some extent.

An interesting aside is the authorisation and posting of officers to units posted on UN assignments. They are almost double the standard authorisation and much greater than the actual number of officers posted with the units. Moreover, an army so hard pressed by internal and external factors has no qualms in being one of the highest providers of peacekeepers to the UN. The other competitors for this position are, hold your breath, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Is the Indian army in the same league? Where are the US, French, British and other modern armies of the world? Something is certainly amiss here. Despite the media projections, these UN assignments haven’t been unqualified successes for the Indian Army. The examples of Generals Jaitley and Raghavan easily come to mind in this regard.

Nevertheless, this press release raises hopes that the army has finally woken up to the impending challenges and the top brass is willing to learn and implement latest management principles and techniques.

A group of senior serving Indian Army officers has just completed a weeklong advanced management course to hone their organisational skills and – and profess to be satisfied with the experience. The premier Management Development Institute (MDI) in suburban Gurgaon conducted the advanced management course for the 15 officers, some of them of three-star rank.

‘The course involved latest macro-management techniques for application in warfare and in the management of various departments in the army to achieve their organizational goals more effectively,’ a defence ministry statement said.

Organisation reform and restructuring is sine qua non to rejuvenating the army. The parliamentary standing committee for defence in its 11th report suggested ‘constitution of a high level empowered committee for restructuring of Armed Forces in order to have optimum use of limited resources and to suggest trimming the force size with corresponding increase in the use of sophisticated technology’. The committee lamented in its 15th report that the suggestion

…has been totally ignored by the Ministry. The Committee further notes that the recommendation of the Committee to examine the relevance of involvement of the Defence Forces in non-defence activities has been left unanswered. Therefore, the Committee wishes to reiterate their earlier recommendation and desire that the Ministry should give a serious thought to the recommendation in order to use the scarce resource in a well-planned manner and desire to have a detailed reply in this regard.

This high level empowered committee to study and suggest reforms for the army, with time bound recommendations, is the need of the hour. The shedding of the organisational flab, rationalisation of the rank structure, reduction in shortage of officers and enhanced attractiveness of an army career will ensue from this path breaking exercise. Implementing these reforms will lead into a tumultuous and fractious period of flux for the army. The organisation will have to very carefully manage this transition; the will to complete this monumental assignment amidst organisational inertia and against deeply embedded interests will have to be displayed by the political, bureaucratic and military top brass. The cost of delay or failure will be too heavy for the nation to bear.



  1. The shortage of officer cadre is leading to various ills–which probably no one understands. Indian Soldiers have been always LED FROM FRONT TO produce best results. The shortage and non-availability of officers has placed heavy burden on the JCO/NCO–who are not trained to lead. They are governed by their petty minded vision. They could be good FOLLOWERS and OBEDIENT SUBORDINATES but they lack the INITIATIVE & MOTIVATION to act on their own. This is the unique feature of the SUBCONTINETAL ARMIES–unlike the WEST and USA. The reason for the shortage of officer is the sudden expansion of army due to raising of RASHTARIYA RIFLES—some 40 units needing 1000 officers. The need arose due to INTERNAL SECURITY requirements and the conduct of WOM (WAR BY OTHER MEANS) by INDIA’s WESTERN ADVERSARY. There are a large number of corrective steps required but there is NO POINT DISCUSSING them here. Suffice to say INDIA must make it army FIT to FIGHT ‘WOM’—the shape, form and dimension of the ‘present and future’ WAR in the subcontinent for the next three decades of 21st Century. THE ABSOLUTE OR TOTAL WAR OF THE ‘BANGLA DESH’ KIND IS RULED OUT FOR NEXT 30 years.RAJEE.

    Comment by rajee kushwaha — June 28, 2007 @ 9:08 am

  2. Inflation, the old enemy is a main reason for the shortage of officer
    cadre. compared to private sector, the officers salary package is a pittance, while the inflation is eroding the purchasing power of the rupee within India. The govt cannot afford to pay more due to budget
    constraints and archaic rules. an army officer in US receives a better
    compensation when compared to India.

    and one of the reasons for opting for UN peacekeeping is the pay is good and soldiers and officers opt for it as payment is in USD….

    a holistic approach to the whole problem of economics with stringent
    defict controls and balancing the budget will reduce inflation and help the nation as a whole….

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — June 28, 2007 @ 10:28 am

  3. “compared to private sector, the officers salary package is a pittance, while the inflation is eroding the purchasing power of the rupee within India. The govt cannot afford to pay more due to budget”

    KR, not just compared to private sector, officers salaries are small compared to other services in GOI such as IAS or even postal service. GOI can surely afford to pay more to these guys – every few years another pay commission pays thousands of crores wage increases to everyone in GOI except Indian military.

    Comment by Chandra — June 28, 2007 @ 11:11 pm

  4. a very well written post …. let me highlight a few more aspects which i felt were left out here …

    1.The shortage of officers has imposed an additional burden on the serving officers more than on the JCOs/NCOs as mentioned by you. However this can be suitabily addressed by exercising carefully selected JCOs and NCOs after requisite training.This is possible only if higher echelons within the organisation and government appreciate the situation correctly.

    2. You have mentioned the increase in intake of cadets at the Academies, but it is only if you look carefully that the subtle but sure fall in standards get marked.Quality will only come if you respect it. Ditto is the case with Defence Research organisations.

    3. The government will never have any qualms in sending the army on UN assignments because the reimbursements it gets is a huge.The soldiers get only a pittance.The economies of countries like Bangladesh and Nepal get a major boost just because of their UN peacekeeping commitments.The developed countries will never like to send their armies to war torn countries because of the following reasons:-
    A. The pay given by UN to the peacekeepers is not much compared to
    the pay intheir armed forces.

    B.The risk factor involved and domestic political pressures linked
    with it. One must remember that the value of human life in developing
    countries (especially in south asia)is a pittance compared to the

    Comment by Naveen — July 1, 2007 @ 8:58 am

  5. India needs the Army to defend itself as well it has the major roll in the Global political issueS and to keep peace.”It was his wordings during the 1971 war with Pakistan on Bangladesh issue”.Now I think his dreams are becoming true.(My father expired in 1993 on 26th of Jan. after watching the Republic Day Ceramonie)

    may father was the Indian Army Captain(Ret. in 1974, participiated 1n 1942-1945(2nd World War)1949,1962,1965,1966-1967(UNO Vietnam),1971 and many other things I did,nt knew.

    Comment by Harmilapi Naresh Kumar — November 5, 2007 @ 1:01 am

  6. [...] One of the other tasks of the Sixth Pay commission is to suggest reduction in the size of the government. The Army baulks and chafes at any suggestions of rightsizing. A quarter of the defence budget of Rs. 96,000 crore goes towards the salaries, while the defence pension bill of Rs. 14,000 crore is not counted towards the defence budget. Make no mistake, the issue of rightsizing the military is unrelated to lowering of guard for national security. It is about cutting wasteful expenditure – to get more bang for the buck [related posts here, here and here]. [...]

    Pingback by Pragmatic Euphony » Blog Archive » The seats at academy are always full — January 18, 2008 @ 12:38 am

  7. the officer as well as the jco are feeling burden of the shortage of officer. however this burden can be lessened by selecting graduated and qualified jco for the officer post. there are many jco retiring before the full tenure of their job.
    there should be some criteria to select the jco who are capable of becoming officer.some of the jco are more capable of doing than what they are getting to do now. so, some steps should be taken in this regard.

    Comment by karamveer singh — February 22, 2008 @ 5:09 pm

  8. Shortage of officers in the military forces is a long standing problem yet fought several won wars.

    Re-structure of the officer level to current number of officers is an option that many estimated positions can be avoided. Furthermore, too many officer presence shall create indiscipline too.

    Since educated men are more in the forces today opportunities to them to faster promotion to Junion Commission Officers and so on brings morale high and seeking early realease by other ranks.

    Many join the service with great insight but diminishes once enrolled. Able personnel from Other Ranks should get chances to advance is better than massive hiring of Commissioned Officers.

    Ex-Hav AEC
    Edayil Ittycheria Abraham, M A Political Science Agra University year 1967. Served at the extreme edge battlefront 1965 war at Sialkot Sector – Chawinda and 1971 Bengladesh war.

    In the US and British service, regardless of educational, a recruit or soldier who is found capable is Commissioned. I heard a Malayalee ( Kerala State ) high school student boy in the USA run away from parents and joined the Army. And during the BOOT CAMP ( basic training ) on skills elivated to Commissioned Officer and in the US military Indian Origin Officers are more than below ranks, almost all of them joined below rank officer. There is no shortage of skilled men in the Indian Army but the shortage is righteous policy.

    In 1965 April at J&K Domana Jammu, I stood First among 50 candidated in the written examination 85%, but at a brigadier interview I was not selected for the Service Board on reason I was already a soldier and AEC Havildar. So many higher skilled soldiers in the Indian Army are serving under tension from lower skilled higher ranks and it is my experience too.

    Comment by DR E I ABRAHAM, Ph D — March 16, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

  9. how many people are in the army ?

    Comment by sarah — March 25, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  10. Dear All,
    I am working on a Research Paper which speaks about , “How to improve the service conditions of PBORs(Personnel below Officer’s Rank i.e. JCOs & ORs )and their Future employability in the post-retirement period”. I invite Analysis and Suggestions from one and all.
    Col Saxena

    Comment by Col Saxena — April 24, 2008 @ 12:04 pm

  11. Another thought. There are many officer vacancies in the army to be filled in. However, there in no shotage of officers in the army. That not all the vacancies are really officer vacancies other than an administrative opinion. We successfully fought two wars between 1965 and 1971 with the same or higher shortage.

    I am Ex-Service with MA and Ph D college degrees. I think there is no shortage but a policy matter. Re structure of the army needed. Higher Educated men, train them for higher responsibilities, promote them to JCO ranks with higher resposibilities at earlier age and promote other ranks to officer cader if qualify. As the economy growing faster I do not think enough financial benefits can be gained by many highly educated intellectual in the military. When the economy was poor military bebefits were higher but no more. I know a 10 year computer engineer in the civil making about Rs300,000 month and enjoys the good civil life, after refused a military rank. In my case after higher college degree joined as Education Havildar and posted me far from home Kerala State about 3000 away at Line of Control border post in Kashmir at my handsome youth. And lived like an illetrate uneducated “Jangilee” there for 3.75 years for a tenure of 3 years. Had to stay 0.75 years more there on good team work with all and no one wants to prepare my movement order to new location. For my ability I would have been an officer but have had no administrative code. So I had no other choice but to leave.

    Comment by E I Abraham, Ex-Hav.AEC — April 25, 2008 @ 4:41 am

  12. A Colonel Researching “How to improve the service conditions of PBORs. What a JOKE.

    You must be suggesting that all PBORs should be made to work in retired officers houses.

    OR how to get best lady fingers for officers mess from Jawans’ ration.

    Comment by jai — August 22, 2008 @ 9:10 am

  13. Thanx a lot for the valuable information.

    Comment by Dinesh — September 24, 2008 @ 8:39 pm

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