Hailed as the Queen of the Battle, the infantry is down on her knees. Officers are in the vanguard of soldiers queuing up to quit the army. Out of some 810 army officers who have sought premature release (PMR) from service till June this year, over 205 are from the infantry. The army has released over 320 officers.
Senior army officers have dubbed the trend “disturbing,” one that would have a “weakening effect” on the army’s combat leadership. Most of the officers are in the middle rung of the army hierarchy (lieutenant colonels and colonels) — the backbone of the army’s fighting force.
Never before have so many officers opted for PMR. Figures obtained from Army Headquarters show 1,095 officers put in their papers in 2007. The army cleared 575 officers for release, including 144 infantry officers. Over 430 officers quit the army in 2006, 341 in 2005 and 269 the year before.
This year’s exodus is being attributed to discontentment fuelled by the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission and considerable delay in the implementation of the A.V. Singh committee report, which was supposed to be an antidote for the extensive stagnation in the middle rung.
The spurt in PMR applications of infantry officers this year comes as a scare for the army as it threatens the force’s operational readiness. The number of officers discharged in recent years has steadily risen from some 80 in 2004, around 95 in 2005, 110 in 2006 to around 145 last year.
“The trend establishes that infantry officers want to hang their boots before they run out of opportunities in the private sector. Another disturbing trend is that even young officers (majors) want to quit,” a senior officer told HT.
There is a shortfall of 11,153 officers in the army. It is hardly a secret that infantry battalions are facing an unprecedented officer crunch and the situation is likely to further worsen. A standard infantry unit is supposed to have around 23 officers but units are making do with just 12-14 officers in operational areas and less than 10 if deployed elsewhere.
Aside from infantry officers, the army is also finding it hard to retain officers with technical qualifications.