Alarming shortage of personnel

Print edition : March 07, 2014

OVER the years, the armed forces have lost out in the race to be seen as a lucrative career option for young men and women. The Army is short of 10,100 officers and 32,431 other soldiers, called personnel below officer rank (PBOR). More than 25,000 jawans have gone on premature retirement in the last three years and over 100 officers and other soldiers are committing suicides every year. These figures were provided by Defence Minister A.K. Antony in his replies to Parliament since 2010. It is small consolation that the shortage of officers has come down since 2010. While in 2010 the Army was short of 12,510 officers, in July 2012, the shortage was 10,100 officers.

It is significant that the shortage of both officers and PBOR is not a recent phenomenon but has built up over a long time, since 1971 to be precise, and is the result of a long period of neglect. Figures available until 2009, for example, show that the intake of officer recruits, both on permanent and short service commissions, has been going down over the years (See Table). The shortage, when translated to logistics at the ground level, means serious compromises with standard operating processes which, at times, can be disastrous.

Investigation by Frontline revealed that most units have only 10-12 officers against the sanctioned number of 22-27, and if one takes into account those on leave, or on temporary duty and those attending courses, etc., the effective strength comes down to four of five officers per unit, which normally has a strength of 600-800. “The right amount of supervision is next to impossible in this situation and the first casualty is back-to-basic drills, which are an integral part of the officers’ interaction with the men. This leads to a communication gap between officers and jawans and all other problems follow, like stress, suicides, and fratricide,” said an officer, requesting not to be quoted.

As Frontline reported earlier, stress is a major problem in the army these days and the Defence Minister has asked the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) to conduct a study on this problem and take remedial measures, but nothing has been done in this regard yet.

Purnima S. Tripathi