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IAF chief admits to 'problem' over pilots

IAF on Tuesday admitted it had a "problem" on hand but not a "big problem" over pilots wanting to quit for greener pastures.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2006 16:53 IST

The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Tuesday admitted it had a "problem" on hand but not a "big problem" over pilots wanting to quit for greener pastures.

"If everybody is thinking there is a big exodus and there is a big problem, I have a problem but it's not a big one," IAF chief Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi asserted.

"Where you get these numbers from I don't know," he told reporters on the sidelines of an aerospace conference here when asked about a BBC report that some 200 IAF pilots wanted to quit but were being prevented from doing so.

At the same time, he admitted he did not get to know of all the applications made by pilots to quit service.

"You see the system is like this... The application first goes to the squadron commander. He might reject it and I won't even come to know of it," Tyagi maintained.

Holding that there "always were some" pilots wanting to leave and there were some applications pending, he said: "It's in single digits."

According to Tyagi, the IAF was "discouraging pilots from going because of our needs. We keep calculating how many we need, when will they come, how many years will it take to train them; that's a regular exercise.

"We allow pilots to go depending on our needs. Suppose I have 100 aeroplanes and I have 95 pilots, obviously I can't let them go.

"But if I have 100 aeroplanes and I've got 105 pilots, maybe I can let five of them go," Tyagi pointed out.

The air chief said there had been "no change" in the policy for dealing with applications from pilots wanting to quit.

"The policy is the same. The policy says we'll discuss it and take care of it on a case-by-case basis.

"That's what we are doing. It was the policy then, it's the policy now. There's been no change in policy."

A BBC statement based on its investigations quoted unnamed IAF pilots as saying that poor working and living conditions and the difficulties of living away from families had prompted their decision to leave but they were not being permitted to quit.

The BBC statement said many serving pilots who spoke to the radio in different parts of India said they were no longer motivated to carry on in service while being separated from their families.

They said deteriorating service conditions and a culture of "sycophancy being promoted by senior officers" was making it difficult for them to work. They said the situation was aggravated by the authorities' refusal to allow them to quit.

Figures obtained by BBC show that between 2002 and 2004 263 pilots were allowed by the IAF to seek premature retirement. However, in 2005 only eight pilots were allowed to leave.

BBC said it had seen classified documents that showed that one of those given premature retirement managed to do so only after he obtained a letter from a member of parliament.

One of the pilots, with more than a decade of service with the IAF, said he was dismayed at not having been given permission to leave the force and felt victimised.

"Having given the prime years of my youth to the country, what have I asked for? Just to be allowed to live with my family. Even that is being denied," he was quoted as saying.

In a written response to BBC, the IAF said: "When any officer of IAF asks for premature retirement on compassionate grounds, these cases are investigated and, when found genuine, the officer is allowed to proceed on premature retirement."

The IAF added that millions of rupees were spent on training pilots.