It is said that Pakistan is controlled by its military while in India it is the bureaucracy that holds the politicians to ransom but has a soft corner for the police
News reports state that the government is seriously considering applying short tenures of three and five years to half the army’s strength. Termed Tour of Duty (ToD), the news first appeared in media in 2020. The main reason given is to reduce the pension bill. Also, a WhatsApp post in circulation indicates the prime minister wants this to discipline the youth although the prime minister has not mentioned ToD in his numerous public discourses. Disciplining can best be inculcated by compulsory NCC and equivalent training in ‘all’ schools and colleges.
The military’s pension bill needs to be viewed in the context of the following: civilian employees including central armed police forces (CAPF) serve 20-25 years longer than military soldiers and retire with 10-15 times higher pay; all civil services and CAPF are authorized non-functional upgrade (NFU) allowance which is denied to military personnel; veteran civil employees drawing pension enjoyed NFU in service and get yearly upgrades under one rank, one pension (OROP) but the military is denied OROP, and civilian employees get ‘additional pay’ up to the age of 60 years under the national pension scheme (NPS).
NFU was granted to civil services a decade ago and the 7th Central Pay Commission created a separate pay matrix for military and civilians; giving the civilians 40 increments over 40 years compared to 24-31 to the military depending on the age of retirement. The cumulative effect of the above is that all IAS, IPS and Group ‘A’ Services retire in HAG/above Pay (earning many times more than military soldiers) which enables them financial security for the rest of their lives.
The government has been unable to provide employment to about 50,000 military personnel retiring every year. This number will go up exponentially with the introduction of ToD. It would be naïve to ignore their social impact without jobs and proficiency in handling weapons.
The supposed savings in military pensions by introducing ToD should also take into account the expenses on additional recruiting, extra recruit training cycles, training infrastructure, instructors and expansion of establishment, which would also entail recurring revenue expenditure.
Most important is the adverse impact ToD would have on the combat capabilities, particularly in the army. The media quotes late General Bipin Rawat mooting the idea of ToD for reducing the pension bill. But after the 2020 Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh, Rawat attributed the PLA’s poor performance in operations including in the Galwan clash to the short tenures of their soldiers. It would be stupid to ignore this important operational aspect. Do we want to break the cohesion within military units?
Kill the idea
With annual leave, casual leave, courses and temporary duties, how much time would personnel of ToD physically serve in his/her unit? Considering all the above issues including the adverse operational impact, the idea of ToD, which amounts to ‘sinicization’ of the military, needs to be dropped.
Recent reports also state that the government is considering posting more IPS officers in the Border Security Forces (BSF) and that 50 percent of BSF battalions could be commanded by BSF officers. As it is, the top hierarchy of the CAPF is manned by the IPS, whereas the CAPF only has an odd Additional Director General rank officer from their respective service. This has been the grouse of all the CAPF including major ones like the BSF and the CRPF, but the IPS has prevailed with support from the bureaucracy.
The IPS is trained for and is experienced in the maintenance of law and order. The CRPF, which is the primary counter-insurgency force operating in the Maoist belt, has suffered periodically because of IPS superiors – in one case losing all 76 CRPF personnel along with their equipment to Maoists in a single night because of the stupid order by their DIG from IPS who was not even punished thereafter. There are many such incidents on record.
Till the early 1970s, the commanding officers and most company commanders of BSF units were army officers on deputation or on permanent absorption but now we appear to be heading in the exact opposite direction. The task of the BSF is border security, not maintaining law and order. Why then are we going for ‘politicization’ of the BSF? The government needs to ensure that all the CAPFs are headed by a Director-General and below rank officers from their own cadre.
Pakistan and India
It is said that Pakistan is controlled by its military whereas, in India, it is the bureaucracy that holds the politicians also to ransom but has a soft corner for the police since they man the intelligence agencies and are privy to all their skullduggery and skeletons. Many years back, at an open seminar at the IAS Academy in Mussoorie, a bureaucrat told a veteran general who had lost a leg in combat that the bureaucracy “hates” the army.
It stands to reason that the bureaucracy-centered 'deep state' in India would continue efforts to weaken the army and other security forces, whether on behalf of foreign forces or by themselves. This is hardly good for a rising India.
(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views are personal.)