Officials familiar with the matter said on Monday that a new recruitment policy called ‘tour of duty’ to induct soldiers for short service in the armed forces is expected to be announced this week, paving the way for the Indian Army to resume recruitment after a two-year hiatus triggered by Covid-19 restrictions.
According to one of the authorities, the tour of duty model entails the enlistment of persons below officer rank (PBOR) in the army, air force, and navy for four years, including six months of training. In military circles, the proposed paradigm has sparked heated debate, with some veterans criticising the notion and saying that the disadvantages may exceed the benefits.
The soldiers recruited under tour of duty will be discharged after four years, however the new method will allow for roughly 25% of them to be retained following another round of screening, officials said on condition of anonymity.
These recruits will most likely receive a severance compensation of roughly ten lakh rupees, but they will not be eligible for a pension. Those who are kept will have another 15 years of service and will be eligible for retirement benefits.
“It will not only cut the pension bill, but it will also lower the age profile of troops in units,” one of the officials explained. Soldiers that are recruited through the standard process serve for around 20 years before retiring with a pension in their late 30s.
According to the Hindustan Times on May 28, recruitment rallies under the new model are planned to be held across the country from August to December. In the initial wave of recruiting, over 45,000 young men between the ages of 17 and 21 are expected to be recruited under the tour of duty concept, according to officials.
According to former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia, tour of service is likely to produce unavoidable instability in the system, compromising the culture and strength of the armed forces (retd).
“The concept of naam, namak aur nishan (unit pride and glory) is one of the key drivers of battle efficacy,” Bhatia stated. “An individual who has served for less than four years is more likely to be risk adverse and focused on their next career.”
“The military is more than just a job. It’s a way of life for them. “Before it is implemented, the concept must be evaluated and adjusted to improve combat effectiveness while reducing defence spending,” he added.
While the new recruitment model’s specifics are unknown, officials believe it will eliminate distinct class makeup in select regiments and replace it with an All-India, All-Class (AIAC) structure.
“The proposed idea would deliver an instant qualitative surge in the units as only 25% will be retained/re-inducted,” military affairs expert Major General Ashok Kumar (retd) wrote in a piece published on the HT website last week. Better leadership at the non-commissioned officer level will come from this qualitative advantage… AIAC will be a better patriotic model since the ethos will be linked to the unit and the country rather than focusing solely on class makeup.”
Even military officials said the scarcity had not harmed the army’s operational readiness, the army was beginning to feel the burden of a manpower shortage caused by the Covid-induced recruitment block.
The PBOR cadre is currently short of roughly 125,000 soldiers, with the shortfall expanding at a rate of more than 5,000 personnel every month. A total of 1.2 million soldiers are authorised to serve in the army.
In the pre-Covid era, the army held up to 100 recruitment rallies every year, each spanning six to eight regions. It recruited 80,572 applicants in 2019-20 and 53,431 candidates in 2018-19 before Covid-19 struck. The army’s officer intake was unaffected by the pandemic.