[An army recruitment rally]
An attribute of a poor over-populated Third World India, where a majority of the people still eke out a marginal existence is that no job, however dangerous, goes unfilled. It matters little if that vacancy is in the public or private sector, or how menial and risky it is. For those living hand to mouth — some 70% of the population of 1.3 billion, any job is better than not having one.
The most sought-after jobs for the masses of the barely literate unemployables, including cleaning sewers, sweeping city lanes, laying railway tracks or dumping hot bitumen to make roads in the heat of the noonday sun, are where the government (central, state, municipal) is employer. Because they promise a steady income and pensionable retirement.
Then there are the railways and the defence services — the two biggest central government employers.
The railways have 1.26 million persons on the payroll. The railway retirees totaling some 1.55 million people exceed the 1.25 million in active service, and the pension costs amount to some Rs 53,000 crores — fully 25% of the revenue of the railways (in 2021), with monthly pension averaging Rs 9,000.
55,000 personnel retire annually from the 1.4 million strong armed services, with defence civilians being in larger proportion. (The defence civilian was discussed in the previous post.) It has resulted in a perpetually growing defence pensioner community that has now ballooned to 2.6 million retirees. The average annual defence civilian pension is roughly Rs. 5.38 lakhs versus Rs. 1.38 lakhs for military pensioners, reflecting longer career spans for the former.
The trouble is public and political pressure is the greatest on the railways and, especially, the armed services, to if not increase their manpower requirements than NOT to reduce them, nor in any way to restrict youth offtake from the traditional recruiting areas of Punjab, Haryana, et al. It is one of the reasons for India remaining stuck with a populous, industrial age, army that seems incapable of transforming itself into a force capable of cyber age warfare of the near future featuring Artificial Intelligence (AI), drone swarms, and autonomous weapons systems. This is so as much for want of political will as of financial and technological resources. The choice therefore is between investing in growingly expensive manpower, or in new fangled technology and exhorbitantly-priced in-date armaments.
Now collate the fact of a resource-constrained army with the nature of the youth demographic in the country. The “youth bulge” of a few years ago is flattening out. Young men and women below 25 years of age comprise half of India’s population. But of this 50%, the cohort in the 19-23 years age group — the feedstock for the army, actually peaked at 127 million last year (2021). Decreasing fertility rates owing to increases in education levels of women and their entry into the workforce is why. That is good news.
But this development in no way lessens the impact of the factors exacerbating the unemployment problem. The most devastating of these is the sub-standard education system mass-producing, for all practical purposes, illiterates. Instead of citing bone dry statistics, let me reproduce here an illustrative example of the tragedy being played out all too often in this country of too few even lowest category government jobs being chased by far too many supposedly well-degreed youth, featured in a monograph on India’s “demographic burden” by a French political scientist, Christophe Jaffrelot. “When the Indian Railways announced that it would create 63,000 jobs – all situated in the lowest level of its employment ladder”, he writes, “20 million candidates applied, including 419,137 BTech degrees holders and 40,751 people with master degrees in engineering.” That is 318 applicants for each of the 63,000 “trolleyman” or track labourer jobs on offer! He doesn’t mention the riots that occur, albeit irregularly, at railway and army recruitment centres and rallies.
What this says about the “BTech” and “Masters” degrees liberally dispensed like so much confetti is best left unsaid. But the effect on those 19 million odd youth in the above railways case who failed to get even the meanest job they applied for, must be devastating. It highlights what I have in the past written about — the urgent need for the government to stress vocational training obtaining persons with skill-sets ranging from the quotidian (plumbing, electrician work) to really high-value (high-pressure welding, care and maintenance of robotic machines, etc.) with strict professional certification standards geared to industry needs. Instead, thanks to government policies a fairly unregulated educational sphere thrives with literally hundreds of thousands of colleges in just as many rinky-dink universities yearly pushing out into the labour market unimaginable numbers of unemployable youth with degrees in all sorts of disciplines that count for less than nothing. The analog here of students at the lower secondary level (according to newsreports regarding Delhi government schools which, incidentally, are among the better-run school systems in India!!) — Class 5 students unable to read Class 2 texts, or to do a simple division.
In any case, it is the 19-23 year old youth cohort at the centre of the latest army recruitment policy innovation that’s apparently being considered by the government. In order ostensibly to curb the defence payroll and pensions spend, it proposes a binding contract for all army recruits of four years service, with only a quarter of every cohort being retained after the initial 4-year tenure for longer service with the proviso that the time pulled upto that date of service extension is not counted for purposes of remuneration, seniority, promotion, retirement benefits, etc.
This is, for obvious reasons, a singularly silly scheme and has the fingerprints all over it of the Niti Ayog caboodle run by that glib, voluble, jargon-spouting super-annuated civil servant — Amitabh Kanth, heading it. It is unlikely any uniformed brass took it seriously. In any case, it was leaked to the press to ascertain the public reaction — the usual kite-flying exercise the government occasionaly indulges in. It has elicited a lot of heated responses.
Particularly noticeable was the reaction of a retired armoured corps officer, Major General Bishambar Dayal, in a May 29 Hindi TV news programme debate on the subject. He was so agitated, it is a wonder he wasn’t marched off from the TV studio to the police station charged with violating the infamous sedition law — Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.
Dayal first hinted reasonably that army HQ had no part in cobbling this 4-year “tour of duty” service concept. He then ranted — going seriously akilter as he went along — that the Indian army has never relied for success on technology as much as it did on highly motivated jawans. And how this idea of short term trooper level service system being proposed would blow up the traditional “naam, namak, nishan” basis of unit proficiency. He topped it by well, inciting — there’s no other word for it — the youth to come out on the streets to compel the government and the army to back down. When questioned he sheepishly acknowledged, however, that the prevailing policy of 15-year colour service with lifelong pension to follow of a manpower-intensive fighting force may not, after all, be sustainable. (Refer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnsqzvCkezA )!
The most alarming aspect, even more than his call to arms, as it were, to Indian youth, all rendered in thunderous fashion, was his view that the army had to retain its basic nature as primarily an employment generator and social escalator particularly for rural youth — because, he raved, the jawan is the “brahmastra”, not weapons or technology, and that, by implication, that any army plan to transition to a more compact, technologically in-date, fighting force, is to go down the wrong track! His opinions, perhaps shared by many other officers and Other Ranks, reveal the inertia the army appears to be cocooned in.
But in one respect Dayal is right. Right-sizing the army cannot be effected on the basis of a slapdash proposal sans thought such as this one, put together by God knows who, but needs to be done on the basis of a detailed study by the CDS secretariat to see the extent to which the current strength of the army and of specific combat arms and technical and other cadres can be pruned partially or fully to accommodate automated weapons systems driven by AI in the order-of-battle. Decisions will also have to be made about such parts of the military’s functioning that can be out-sourced based on their econo-military effect and consequences, and accordingly to alight on a force restructuring plan and programme.
Then again, if economizing on the forces and curbing expenditure on payroll and pensions is the immediate and urgent goal, why not revert to the original 5/7 year colour service the army had followed up to the 1970s before the lifetime employment notion was implemented, hurting the army’s agility, stamina and edge on the battlefield?
Indeed, in the classified report on defence expenditure as Adviser, defence expenditure I had prepared for the 10th Finance Commission chaired by the former defence minister, the late KC Pant, I had flagged the issue of pension costs soon outpacing the combined military modernization costs on capital account and the running/maintenance costs on revenue account. I had outlined a schemata for streamlining manpower management and flow from the army to the paramilitary forces and state police armed constabulariries. The Narasimha Rao government in 1995 had accepted that report in toto,
It was really a simple arrangement that was articulated. An average jawan after 7-year colour service would join the reserve but concurrently, after a short reorientation training for civilian law & order duties, join the paramilitary organization with vacancies for service until retirement. Because the demobilized and already skilled jawans would need no weapons, tactical, or technical training (signals, maintenance, logistics, etc), it would save the national exchequer huge sums of money currently spent on training and on related establishments of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Border Security Force, Central Reseve Police Force, Industrial Security Force, et al all controlled by the Home Ministry. It would result, I contended, in these paramils becoming more effective in the field and displaying unit coherence and discipline — an inherent carryover from army service, that is not as readily evident in these paramilitary organizations. The financial benefit would be that the pension payout on military account would be deferred, leading to considerable cuts in defence pension allocations.This plan, suitably amended, deters pension-seeking by men in their late twenties, and needs only to be dusted off, fleshed out, and brought up-todate.
The core idea in it is to establish the army as the sole source of trained and skilled armed manpower for not just the central paramils but all state armed police units, including the police Special Forces (such as the Andhra Pradesh state police’s Greyhound force) active in counter-insurgency role. There is an in-built integrity to this scheme of armed manpower management that’s missing in current atomised arrangements that end up being a drain on financial resources and a waste of skilled military manpower — neither of which India can afford.
The positives of this model notwithstanding, it has no chance realistically of being adopted by the governments at the centre and in the states all of whom zealosuly guard their separate recruiting turfs because it is in the paramilitary and state police recruitment that politicians can exercise their power of patronage, besides having armed forces they can command and control.
So, the present way of doing things will be persisted with. Myriad paramils each with its own “culture” and “ethos” and, ironically, a desperate desire to be like the army in all respects — arms training, uniforms, insignia of rank, procedures and protocols end up being what they are — bad copies of the original. Moreover, because the paramils are run by Indian Police Service officers, these domestic law and order forces responsible for internal security end up with the characteristic ills of the Indian police, including corruption, lax operating style, and a “dheela-dhala” attitude.
Unfortuantely our dpsus are a joke. Or else with such a large cohort of unemployed but motivated youth we could have had numbers that could overshadow China. Given them weapons and march to PoK and Aksai Chin. Blitzkreig style.
“Give them weapons and march to PoK and Aksai Chin. Blitzkreig style.”
And they all will be cut down by a hail of bullets from the Pakistani and Chinese side. The government will have to provide at least 1 Crore INR to the family of all such ‘shaheeds’
But yeah, it’s the best way to deal with the country’s over-population problem. India’s demographic dividend was never an asset now it has ballooned into a huge liability.
Just kidding …. anyways the terrain doesnt favour blitzkreig.
After reading your last few articles, it dawns on me that like in many other spheres of life, Indian defence establishments are a mish mash of multiple cultures developed over centuries. Some army regiments and the OFBs are over 150 years old and seem to have remnants of a feudal culture (caste like hierarchy that you talked about earlier). Then you have the DPSUs steeped in a socialist mind set run by babus in a feudal manner. Then you have the modern organisations with the modern theories of organisational behaviour and efficient operations. It’s all a big mess.
Frankly, it’s hard for anyone to make changes to culture, and with a toxic mix developed over centuries, it would be an uphill battle for anyone. There have to be Indian studies of these organisational structures and culture so that people who run these organisations have an understanding with what they are dealing with. Unfortunately, Indian universities may not even have the knowledge of what they are dealing with. They are peddling modern stuff. But what about the feudal systems and socialist structures and the organisational theories to deal with them? The iccha shakti is there, but gyan shakti is lacking. Forget about kriya shakti. Then how can one change?
Employment generation should also be priority for governments.
Your suggest for an imaginative short service scheme with incentives to join later to paramils is excellent.
But Pruning the higher Babudom should be the priority and very often scuttled by these cabals.
Archaic laws giving protection to them and often making responsible the lower rung of bureaucracy should go. A priority for government/political class to look into.
Yes, have advocated abrogation of Article 312 of the Constitution guaranteeing lifetime service to babus. After Article 370 getting rid of Article 312 should be Modi’s priority.
I was doing some research into this and noted that other countries have similar protections and problems. The US has similar protections and they too struggle with inefficient performance. But some form of protection is required lest things become too political in bureaucracy. Singapore bureaucrats even though highly compensated, have similar protections. And while being amongst the most efficient bureaucrats, still have these kind of issues. So the solution seems to be more complex.
The difference is that, say, in the US wedded to principles of individual effort and free enterprise, there has traditionally been societal opprobrium attached to careerist government service. Those joining govt service are perceived as laggards, ne’er do-wells, and why all the top govt posts — Assistant Secretary up in all agencies and Departments of govt are occupied by presidential nominees who have to be approved by the US Senate. Singapore is a city-state and civil service rules besides being strict are strictly implemented.
You mean Article 311 of Constitution?
Article 11 is about Parliament’s powers to regulate citizenship by law which reminds me of the fact that the Govt has not yet framed rules of CAA despite several extensions. Retaining the law without framing rules is akin to expecting muzzled dog to raise alarm in case of danger.
Ravi Kumar@ — It is Article 312. Thanks. Comment text corrected.
Sir,what is your take on sudden raise in targeted killings of Hindus in Kashmir.Why our security forces are failing repeatedly to prevent it even after no power to Gupkar gang for more than 3 years and Why Modi is not doing any surgical strike.
Nice suggestion of reorienting the post-color jawans to the central paramil or even state police roles. Have a few concerns though
1. As you rightly said, this would result in a humongous turf war between the defense and home ministries (which own the paramils). I mean this is not even an intra-department clash.
2. Some paramils like CRPF, BSF have job requirements similar to the Army e.g. counter-insurgency, Naxalism etc. Why would they accept Army jawans who are possibly past their physical prime (after 7 yrs of service)?
3. You did mention in ‘Staggering Forward’ that training an Army Soldier is almost 7 times costlier than a paramil. Using this approach aren’t we over-provisioning Army training capacity to include strength for paramils and state police?
4. Some paramils like CISF have very specific training requirements e.g. nuclear installations, hazardous waste, airports etc. Will it be easy for an army jawan to pick this up? (Maybe I am overthinking on this one :-))
Would really appreciate your comments, It is always great learning from experts like you.
The specialised roles are nothing off-army colour servicemen can’t pick up after a reorientation course of,say, 6 months, longer for security of nuclear establishments, etc.
Niti Aayog CEO is Amitabh not Amodh .
However agree in entirety with your analysis . The erstwhile 7 -10 yr color service ( with an additional 8 -5 yrs in reserve a total of 15 ) kept the pension bill small ( since most enlisted opted for a one time lunpsum payment at the end of color service plus a reserve allce in lieu of meagre non cost indexed pension ) – other advantage was that since the individual was out by 25 ( till which age marriage was not permissible ) there was no pressure for housing, medical of dependants , schooling etc — the system changed in Mid 70s ( not going into the detailed reasons here ).
The elegant solution of lateral absorption that you have suggested has in fact being endorsed by the 6 Central Pay Commision in its report ( devoting many pages in its report to the objection of MHA and the detailed dismantling of these objections in terms of cost savings in training pensions etc — hope sense prevails.
The performance of Russian army populated by a mix of three year contract and one year conscripts in Ukraine should give pause to planners —
Puneet@ – thanks re: Amitabh. Text corrected.
First, you are flogging a dead horse, second Niti Ayog is only a tank with no thinking Third, the entire tour of duty concept had been propounded by some ham headed conglomerate ( I do not want to give a label. Fourth, on a humorous side any senior rank holder in the Services when dressed fully looks like a bandmaster and in the letterhead the name looks like that of a practising dentist, Fifth, critical thinking of any serious nature be it for infrastructure development or for looking forward to the role of the Armed Forces 30 years in advance is non existing. Lastly the damage that has been done by the reemployment of all and sundry including in those organisations which are ( empowered) to think are only domain experts (with years of service experience in their respective organisations) are the most uneducated lot who believe that they know everything. In essence the nation and the government suffers from an intellectual deficit and to crown it none of them can either understand your lexicons or the Queens English that you employ. Hence the take is yours which ever ways. Regards Gautam
Does the new rule out admiral karanbir singh being appointed as chief of defence staff ?
On a different topic, the recent ORF discussion with Gen. Flynn of the US Army Pacific Command was interesting. The general tried to highlight ‘ideals’ in his speech on the Indo Pacific strategy, but refused to answer the question by the moderator on why the US preaches ideals, but pursues its interests. I also got the sense that there is a big difference in US and Indian military positions on Ukraine. Added to that, I got the sense of rigidity in his opinions about the primacy of land armies in the new age of warfare. His responses to several questions on this topic were not very enlightening or convincing. Overall was left with an impression of the classical American stereotype – my way or the highway. Very unlike the frank and honest comments made by the German Vice Admiral recently at IDSA (who was probably fired due to US pressure). Wonder what it means for mil to mil cooperation in the Indo Pac,
Well, as my books and writings reveal, I have always been a sceptic where india~US relations are concerned.
It seems a war with china is just around the corner if one pays attention to certain news reports. China has apparently moved fighter jets to air bases near the border. Do u think there will be a war this year or maybe next?
Pravin Sawhney seems to think so. If so, hope our army is getting ready.
Curiously saw a report of Indian Army doing high altitude military exercises with the US army soon. Good enough deterrent or not?
If you have been reading my
Books and posts on this blog you”d know that I think a big war with China is inevitable, and that it will be initiated in the late spring and summer ideal campaign season this year, the next, and in any case sometime in the not too distant future.
The Indian border is not a bigger issue for China than Taiwan. Does not make much sense for China to launch a war with a much more powerful adversary for a less important strategic issue.
Also, the one insightful thing I learnt from General Flynn’s recent ORF comments was that Chinese navy, Air Force, space and rocket forces are where they have made the most improvements, not the Army. So even from a capability perspective starting a land war with India does not make too much sense. Whether this year or into the near future.
Can they make a strategic miscalculation and start a war? Maybe, but the Chinese are not known for doing this. And India is unlikely to start a major conflict on its own. So methinks a major war with a China and India is unlikely. Periodic testing of Indian strength maybe, and attempts to contain India definitely, but not a major war.
@Professor Karnad- Please refer to the following;
Chinese establishment won’t contradict itself by launching a major ground offensive with India.
They know this time the fight won’t be medieval style (June 2020)
Furthermore, Chinese land army isn’t a great fighting force. Technology wise they are much superior to India but in the hilly/mountain terrain there is a limit to technological warfare.
There will never be any war between China and India neither in the near nor in the distant future.
Border tensions will persist and both would continue upgrading the infrastructure on their respective sides while maintaining heavy troop deployment.
China has discovered alternative ways to confront India, land war is not among them.
You: “big war with China is inevitable”.
Frustation me: so should be Indian N-Tests.
War is inevitable.I cannot agree more with prawin sawhney’s grimm assessment.
The only way to deter it is what i,you and others have been crying for-A megaton TN test.
Now, the absolute failure of russia’s long range precision strikes in UKR must have given PLA generals night wettings.But I personally think that they will strike after october,after Xi gets the third term.Taiwan is a smokescreen.USN virginia/seawolfs can easily send the entire PLAN to the bottom of the SCS without making any noise.They will make a laughing stock out of PLA’s trillion dollar A2/D2 firewall- and the chinese know that.They will never dare to poke the American eagle.India is comparatively a much softer conventional target.So tell your babu friends at MOD to “shake the earth” one last time.
1. I do not believe that the Chinese want to attack India considering they enjoy a yearly trade surplus of well over 70 Billion USD for the last few years with India. In fact by some expert estimates, the Chinese trade surplus with India is bigger than India’s total yearly military spending. Why would the Chinese want to jeopardize all these just for few pieces of Ladakhi or Arunachalese rocks ? It does not make sense to me.
2. I have doubts whether the Chinese would like to even want to invade Taiwan given that almost 35-45 percent of the Taiwanese GDP is maintained by exporting microchips to China and this level is about to increase in the coming years. Why would you want to invade and destroy something that you will eventually get maybe in next 30 years ?
3. Taiwan has an extremely low birth rate and therefore they would like to be slowly absorbed into the Chinese mainland economy in maybe next 3-4 decades. China would like to follow this path of slowly absorbing the Taiwanese economy into the mainland and until and unless the US forces Taiwan to declare independence, CPC will not attack.
I would love your views on this Amit.
While I agree with your conclusion that China wont attack India in a major war (there could be skirmishes like in the past), I think some of the reasons you highlight for not attacking Taiwan may not be enough. By controlling Taiwan, China actually gets control of its chip industry. Economic integration need not lead to prevention of war (there are several examples of this). I think the main hindrance right now is amphibious assault capabilities to attack Taiwan. Most reports I read indicate that China does not have this capability. So it may probably bide its time. Frankly, biding its time and growing its economic and military muscle would be the best strategy for China, but the US is trying its best to provoke China into making a military mistake. So let’s see what happens. But I think there is more chance for an attack on Taiwan than a major war with India.
It’s interesting to see the debate between senior military officers about the potential long term impact of the Agnipath scheme being rolled out by the Government. Some are for and some against. But the underlying fact is that there are no organisational studies that have been done in India that have tracked how large scale changes can be made successfully. Maybe the military academies have such knowledge, but I have seen no evidence of this knowledge in the various articles written by military leaders. So it comes down to trial and error.
A few observations. The Agnipath scheme is very similar to the up or out policy in the world’s top consulting firms. My experience with this scheme is that it works for some consulting firms because they recruit the best, the recruits work on the best projects and build top corporate experience, they have a very fair performance assessment internally, and when they are out, they are eagerly absorbed by industry. This way most of those who are out still do well. However, even with up or out, many get at least two chances – if one does not get promoted now, then six or twelve months later you get another chance. Then you are out. However, this is followed by only a few firms, not all. And it signifies the cut throat world of Corporate America. How well this model will work in India is anybody’s guess. The fact is that there is limited research in India on such organisational change.
This change has the hallmark stamp of the leadership in India. Conducting a pilot would have been prudent before mass roll out. But this would have caused delays in implementation, something India is normally quite poor in. So take a risk and roll it out! Hopefully, the armed forces will be nimble enough to course correct based on ground realities. But frankly, this looks like another decree in a raja-maharaja culture.
@Amit regarding the Agnipath scheme , I observe the following positives about this scheme.
1. Legacy issue : Historically Indian civilization never have had any concept of permanent large standing armies. Usually the various Hindu Kingdoms never used to have permanent large standing armies as they very seldom had reason to conquer each others’ territory. The concept of large standing armies were first brought to India by first the Turks and then the British in order to continuously subjugate a downtrodden and conquered population. Even the current Indian army is nothing but a successor to the earlier East India company army of “martial races”. Therefore by doing away with permanent positions in the army finally the current government is well on its way of removing a legacy of the colonial subjugation that this nation has been subjected to for centuries.
2. Finance issue : Another historical fact is that maintaining a large country like India for a long time even with a huge standing army is financially draining even for some of the most successful of empires like the Mughals or the British. The size and reach of India ensures that it is futile to maintain such a large permanent army for a very long time. I therefore believe this move by the government will save a lot of much needed resources.
I would love to know your views on the same.
Email from Lt Gen JS Bajwa (Retd)
Thu, 2 June at 9:58 pm
Countries with large armies don’t want to let go of trained soldiers. They are invariably side-step them to national guards or armed police or border guarding forces. Why this is not done here is, as you brought out, the recruiting racket.
The CAPF’s when employed for inter security duties are placed under the local police. This their employment is basically a police action albeit with more weapons and firepower.
Another interesting fact about allowances is that every CRP Bn has a base location somewhere in the hinterland. When they operate away from their base location they are entitled to a special daily allowance which is over a ₹1000 per day. This is in addition to all the other allowances that every Home Minister generously sanctions when ever is is invited to some parade.
Why is the GOI not concerned about this budget of the central armed police forces??
Three/four years back I had written to PM on this whole matter but as expected the bureaucracy must have trashed it.