The Indian Army — the second largest in the world — will be undergoing a restructuring.
Unfortunately, the health of the Indian Army, which we are all proud of, isn’t good. The big question is: will this restructuring be able to address all these issues? The last such exercise was in 2004.
Consider this; the Indian Army spends almost a staggering 87 per cent of its budget to meet its pay for day-to-day expenses which includes money to buy spares, maintenance of equipment and salaries. In the current fiscal year — ending March 31, 2019 — the Army’s salary bill is budgeted to be Rs 80,945 crore, the pension bill is at Rs 95,949 crore. And, in contrast, the modernisation budget is just Rs 26,688 crore. “If the current trend continues, in about a decade there will no money left after paying salaries, pension and taking care of daily expenditure,” a senior Indian Army officer said, explaining what restructuring would have to grapple with.
The legacy of the Indian Army is both its strength — and a part of the problem.
Restructuring will have to grapple with the tricky issue of “parity” and “status” with other government services. [Photo: Reuters]
The Indian Army has its beginnings with the East India Company in the 1800s. Its formative years were spent fighting the Anglo-Maratha and Anglo-Sikh wars in India and the Anglo-Afghan wars and the Opium Wars abroad. And, although the army continued to evolve, much of its processes, customs and traditions, etc., are heavily influenced by its colonial legacy. For instance, perhaps no other army in the world teaches in men and officers in different languages. The army, until recently, had military farms which had a few thousand high-bred cattle.
The Veterinary Corps of the Indian Army has about 3,000 men and officers and about 8,000 mules. The Corps rears and breeds the animals. On the other hand, it employs a huge body of men to take care of its vehicles, among other things. Does the army need dedicated garages employing thousands of people to maintain its vehicles or mules to carry supplies to the front? Can the repair and maintenance of vehicles not be handed over to the manufacturers, freeing space and men? Importantly, border infrastructure connecting hitherto unconnected areas is coming up. And, when helicopters can drop supplies and men at pinpointed locations, the mules appear anachronistic.
Apart from legacy issues, the restructuring will also have to grapple with the tricky issue of “parity” and “status” with other government services.
Should the armed forces have just six odd ranks like the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS)? The Indian armed forces have nine ranks. There is a proposal to do away with the rank of a Brigadier. Yet another suggestion proposes that all officers should retire as Major General. A Brigadier commands at least 3,000 men and Major Generals command at least 9,000 men. While these command structures — Regiments, Brigades, Divisions and Corps — will continue to exist, doing away with the rank of Brigadier would only mean calling a Brigadier by a different name — a senior Colonel.
At the core of the “parity” and “status” issues is how we, as a nation, treat our armed forces.
Should the military be placed above or at par with the civilian bureaucracy?
The armed forces complain their status vis-à-vis the civilian bureaucracy has been downgraded since Independence. And there is truth to it. But the preponderance and preference of the armed forces over others during the British Raj is perhaps because the military was needed more to govern India.
Trying to align the military in line with other civilian services, however, will make the military just “another service” of India and lead to a further erosion of “status”. In a globalised world, “right to coerce” and “right to tax” are the only defining factors of the state. The military is the coercive arm of the state, there is no need to make it just another service of the state.
In addition, the military also needs to rethink whether it needs more short-service commission officers as against permanent commissions. More permanent commissions with a steep pyramidal structure means that there is a bulge in the middle because there is no space in the top. At least 40 per cent officers are shaved off at every rank. The result is stagnation.
The fact that the officers who take premature retirement don’t qualify for One Rank One Pension (OROP) is leading to a pile up of unwanted, passed-over officers hanging on to their uniforms. Till OROP was announced, a large chunk of officers who didn’t make it to the rank of Brigadier and equivalent in the Navy and Indian Air Force left the forces. Most found gainful employment in the civilian street.
This restructuring of the Indian army and therefore the Navy and Air Force will perhaps define us as well.
Apart from finding ways to make the armed forces leaner and fighting fit, the restructuring will also show whether we are mature enough to value our armed forces — while not compromising with the core values of a democracy where the elected civilian leadership is the boss.