From generals and rear admirals to lieutenants, officers at all levels are quitting India's armed forces, worsening an already severe manpower shortage.
Figures made available by the army and the navy reveal that 2,712 officers sought discharge over the past five years. Of these 2,061 were allowed to leave. The air force refused to provide figures, saying the information "may be indicative of morale (and)… will prejudicially affect the security of the State".
The figures are the first such publicly shared estimates by the armed forces. According to official records, many officers are dissatisfied with their professional growth and leave for better options.
"There are a large number of people seeking better opportunities outside the army, which is a sad thing, because obviously they are leaving the profession that was their first choice," General (retd) VP Malik, former army chief, told the Hindustan Times. "On one side are the material aspects like pay, allowances, etc. On the other are the prolonged periods of service without much respite in field areas, like insurgency-affected places, when they may have to be separated from their families."
Among those who quit is Gaurav Arya. A former army major, he is now a senior manager with Wipro Technologies and part of a network of former officers who try and help officers seeking better options outside the forces. "Every day I get resumes from serving army officers. A lot of people from the armed forces are trying to leave, and I understand that," said Arya.
Malik pointed to the stagnation in the army. "There is a great deal of it, particularly at the levels of major and above. It is affecting morale."
The 12 lakh-strong army is believed to be short of nearly 13,000 officers, and is on an aggressive hiring campaign. According to the army, the main grounds for resignation are "personal/compassionate reasons, non-empanelment for promotion to the next rank, and placement in permanent low medical category".
An officer posted in Uttaranchal said on condition of anonymity: "I love my job and my unit but my classmates from school working in private banks earn twice my salary. Such things can be frustrating."
The flurry of resignations from the armed forces is also tied to India's economic boom. Officers are in great demand as managers and they are moving from cantonments to the corporate sector.
The benefits can be tempting. An army major earns up to Rs 3 lakh a year apart from free housing and subsidised food, but it is paltry compared to the salaries and perks on offer in the private sector.