The exodus of officers from the Indian Army is disturbing. As reported in this paper, dozens of officers have sought premature retirement from service, and an even larger number is expected to follow suit. Disappointment with the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations seems to prompt these officers to dump the olive green and seek greener pastures in other professions. The military had in mind four times what the commission has proposed as salary hike. Curiously, the frustration is acutely felt in the middle and lower ranks of the armed forces that rightly feel short-changed by the dramatically different treatment meted out to the service chiefs, whose longstanding demand of pay parity vis-à-vis the IAS-led civil service appears to have been met. South Block should have anticipated this crisis, given that the three services did submit a memorandum to the commission last year seeking an appropriate raise in pay scales, and enhancement of allowances and introduction of new allowances.
Unfortunately, this couldn’t be happening at a worse time to the 1.13-million-strong army that is already short of over 11,000 officers as against a sanctioned strength of 46,615. The exit of so many officers will leave infantry battalions facing an unprecedented officer crunch. It is too soon to forget the Kargil conflict in 1999 when there were so few officers around that they had to be rotated from one operation to another with different battalions to direct artillery fire. The mass exodus could also worsen the declining interest in employment in the armed forces. The fact that an unacceptably large number of seats in the National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla and the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun lie vacant is hardly reassuring for any army that is confronted with a dearth of officer corps. No wonder Army Chief General Kapoor recently thought aloud about conscription at some point if more talent is not attracted to the army.
But then the best way to do it is to motivate the men and women already in uniform. All efforts must be made to relate pay and allowances with the tough service conditions and personal hardships faced by the troops. It is also high time the military administration was cleaned of corruption and nepotism, and made more transparent.