A fresh and potentially crippling round of exodus has hit the Army, which is already facing a severe shortage of officers. Dozens of officers have sought premature release from service, and a larger number plan to do the same. All are apparently disappointed with the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission.
South Block sources told Hindustan Times that 69 middle-rung officers have initiated paperwork to quit since March 24, when the pay panel submitted its report to the government. “This is the tip of the iceberg. We have feedback that hordes of lieutenant colonels and colonels are queuing up to quit. The pay panel is the villain of the piece,” a senior officer said.
The army is already short of 11,153 officers, and the recent developments have made its worst fears come true. Infantry battalions are facing an unprecedented officer crunch and the situation is likely to worsen now.
A standard infantry unit is supposed to have 23 officers but units are making do with just 12-14 officers in operational areas, and less than 10 elsewhere.
The commanding officer of an infantry battalion said, “Desperate measures were being taken to shore up units. Nine newly commissioned lieutenants were sent to my battalion to make up for the officer shortage. But it hardly helped because they were not trained to lead a company-level force in operations.” These units require middle-rung officers who have done specialist courses and form the backbone of the army’s fighting force.
A major, who plans to quit, told Hindustan Times, "I was undecided on whether to quit or not. I have now made up my mind. There's a growing sense of despondency among my colleagues."
The army can turn down requests for premature release. But Lieutenant General HS Bagga, a former director general (personnel) and co-author of AV Singh Committee report on restructuring the officer cadre, said: "Even if the army does not release them, the big question is how will it keep them motivated?"
Defence Minister AK Antony has assured the service chiefs, who have met him twice since March 24 over the stingy proposals, that the ministry would push for corrections in the pay panel's report to meet the aspirations of soldiers.
But desperate officers are running out of patience and scrambling for alternative careers. The take-home package of major to brigadier has gone up by just 13-15 per cent, officers said. "We have got peanuts. A large number of those who still join the army would do so only if they have been rejected in the civilian domain. The trend will seriously undermine the quality of military's human capital and threaten its operational effectiveness," a senior officer said.
The pay panel, however, has defended its proposals saying that the armed forces have been given their due. The military has now proposed a 40-60 per cent increase over the hike suggested by the panel, though initially it had suggested a four-fold increase. A lieutenant colonel, who is quitting, said, "I have no time to wait for the government to constitute the Seventh Pay Commission 10 years hence."
The navy and air force, which are facing a shortage of 1,403 and 1,368 officers respectively, are also keeping a track of developments triggered by the pay panel's report.