Indian Army Reforms – Beyond Shekatkar Committe Report

The Indian Army forms the backbone of Indian defence system. From the very onset, the institution has been one that inspires discipline and moral uprightness.

Cultivating an environment of peace and security so that the nation grows to its fullest potential makes the Indian army a noble profession. Enrolling into the service is naturally seen as a matter of pride by the citizens.

However, the recent past has seen the institution catching headlines for some not so good reasons. This is particularly true in the context of the recent video blogs which shows mistreatment of soldiers by higher officers. Here we analyse some of the major points of concern with respect to Indian Army and attempt to resolve them through amicable solutions.

Indian Army – An Overview

  • Indian Army has its roots in the East Indian Company army.
  • Indian army was developed by integrating the pre-independence forces of British India and princely states – under the supreme command of the Indian President.
  • It is entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring national security by defending against external as well as internal threats.
  • It forms the land-based branch of the Indian Armed Forces complementing the other two branches – Indian Navy and Indian Air Force.

Structure of Indian Army

Organizationally the Indian army structure is divided into seven geographical commands – 6 operational and 1 training command viz.

  1. Northern Command (Udhampur, Jammu and Kashmir),
  2. Central Command (Lucknow, UP)
  3. Western Command (Chandigarh)
  4. South Western Command (Jaipur, Rajasthan)
  5. Eastern Command (Kolkata, West Bengal),
  6. Southern Command (Pune, Maharashtra) and
  7. Army Training Command (Shimla, Himachal Pradesh).

Functional Divisions of the Indian Army

The Army is divided into the following functional divisions:

  1. Armored Corps
  2. Artillery
  3. Corps for Air Defense
  4. Aviation Corps
  5. Corps of Engineers
  6. Corps of Signals
  7. Infantry
  8. Ordnance Corps

Indian army: Issues and Grievances

Recent media reports had highlighted some issues/grievances connected with Indian Army.

Skewed Promotions Trends – Bypassing seniority

  • The new Army Chief, General Rawat, was third in line according to the convention of seniority. However, he was made the Chief, bypassing protocol/convention. Although there is no legal basis to challenge the same, the move has raised eyebrows both within and outside the Army circles. Those unhappy with the decision put forth a host of arguments.
  • Merit and experience in combat as deciding parameters in the appointment is inconclusive. Army is not meant to be only a counter-insurgency force. Hence a greater experience in that domain shouldn’t put a candidate at an advantage.
  • It would set a bad precedent for future appointments in the Army and other institutions. The increased politicisation might lead to a politico-army nexus which might see the army officials play to the gallery rather than be objective with their policies.
  • A Muslim officer was second in line. Given the anti-minority attitude allegations against the government, this move only adds fuel to the fire.

Service related bias – Favour towards one service wing

  • The claim that there exists intra-Army bias lopsided in favour of certain services is another worry.
  • It is evidenced by the fact that the last four Army chiefs have all been from the same service wing-Infantry.
  • A clear preference for Infantry over Artillery, which in-turn supersedes Engineers and Signals have also been observed in promotions. This preference is observable in the time-frame for promotion in different services – Infantry – 2 years, Artillery – 2.5 years and Engineers and Signals – 3 years.
  • This differential promotion criterion was established by the Ajai Vijay Singh Committee recommendations, which were upheld by the Supreme Court in Feb 2016.

Regiment bias

  • To add to the misery, a preference for personnel from own regiment has also been observed

Nutritional Issues – Quality and Quantity concerns

  • It was Napoleon who quoted the right words – an army marches on its stomach.
  • In this light, the video blogs highlighting poor and unhealthy diet being served to the army personnel is disheartening.
  • The claimants have pointed out that rations that reach them are merely 40% of that mandated on paper.

Leave policy  – Discrimination

  • There have been instances of discrimination in allowing leaves as well.
  • Reluctant leave policies that are rooted in mistrust and corruption do no good to the institution either.
  • There have been alarming reports like that of leave being denied for 10 months to an army personnel. This clearly reflects the apathetic attitude that our heroes are challenged with

Continuation of certain colonial practices

  • Although we have left behind our dark colonial past, the past seems to have been ingrained into our societies so deeply that cultural colonialism of those days still persists. This was manifested in revelations about the existence of certain practices within the Army that were aimed at mistreating the Indian soldiers during the colonial era.

1. Sahayak system

  • As the name suggests, soldiers in this system are forced to do domestic chores for senior officers, acting as their ‘sahayaks’.
  • This includes petty chores like washing clothes, polishing shoes, walking the officer’s dogs etc.

2. Buddy system

  • Although the intent of this approach, which is also being emulated in corporates, is easy integration of new joiners, the system has been exploited by higher officials for selfish interests.
  • Soldiers are deputed to senior officers to learn better, but they end up serving them, doing their personal chores instead.

Rising suicides and fratricides

  • It is no secret that cases of suicides and fratricides are common in the Army.
  • Statistics revealed by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, 2003-2013, for instance, point out disturbing numbers: 1666 suicides and 109 fratricides (killing/shooting comrades)

No proper grievance redress mechanism

  • There have also been complaints of court martial being used as a tool to harass complainants.
  • Victimisation of the accused rather than bringing him to justice seems to be the undertone.

Existential crisis

  • While the Indian Army, the Navy and the Air Force are under the Defence Ministry, the 7 paramilitary forces are under the Home Ministry.
  • This has resulted in certain peculiar distinctions where paramilitary personnel seem to be given step-motherly treatment.
  • For instance, there is no grievance redress mechanism for the paramilitary. The Armed Forces Tribunal (2007) comes under the Defence Ministry and hence, excludes the 7 paramilitary forces.
  • Instead, paramilitaries follow Security Force Court (a court martial like system). This court can also pronounce death sentences, although no appellate mechanism is supported except a petition.
  • Besides, constitutional limitations like those enlisted in Article 33 impose limitations on usage of writ petitions as well.

Reform reports kept out of public

It isn’t that the need for reforming the Indian Army wasn’t evident earlier, many studies and reports have been focused in this direction. However, despite multiple studies for reforms, the reports have not been made public. This has given leeway to the slow progress in this regard as the identified issues are kept out of public domain.

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