The Indian Army is likely to restart its recruitment process after a two-year freeze triggered by Covid-19 restrictions even as a new recruitment policy called “tour of duty” to induct soldiers for short-term service is being finalised, officials familiar with the matter said on Friday, asking not to be named.
While the recruitment schedule is still being worked out, the recruitment rallies are expected to be conducted across the country from August to December, the officials said.
The army was beginning to feel the strain of a manpower crunch stemming from the freeze on recruitment even though officials said the shortage had not blunted the army’s operational readiness and units were performing optimally.
Necessary preparations for recruitment are being made in view of the impending announcement of the new recruitment policy, said one of the officials cited above. The “tour of duty” model envisages the recruitment of personnel below officer (PBOR) rank for four years, including six months of training, the officials said.
These soldiers are likely to be given a severance package running into a few lakhs at the time of their release, it is learnt. Some of them could also be retained in service after the completion of four years of service after another round of screening but those details are not known yet.
Soldiers recruited through the normal process serve for about 20 years before they retire in their late 30s with a pension.
The army is currently short of around 125,000 soldiers in the PBOR cadre, with the deficiency growing at the rate of more than 5,000 men every month. It has an authorised strength of 1.2 million soldiers.
It’s good that the army will be restarting recruitment soon as the shortage of manpower was affecting operational readiness of units, especially those deployed in the forward areas, said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd). “As far as the “tour of duty” model goes, I feel it needs to be thought through a little more before its implementation,” Hooda added.
The freeze on recruitment was not rolled back by the government despite the Covid situation stabilising and normalcy returning in several areas.
The army conducted up to 100 recruitment rallies every year in the pre-Covid era, with each covering six to eight districts. Before Covid struck, the army recruited 80,572 candidates in 2019-20 and 53,431 candidates in 2018-19. To be sure, the pandemic did not affect the officer intake in the army.
Hundreds of thousands of army aspirants across the country have been demanding that recruitment be restarted at the earliest and that the age eligibility be relaxed by at least two years to accommodate those who have become overage because of the hold on recruitment. Candidates must be between seventeen-and-a-half and 21 years of age to get recruited as general duty soldiers in the army.
The rare freeze on recruitment dashed the hopes of an entire generation of young men across the country for whom army was the only career option, as previously reported by HT.
The officials said with the sustained infusion of technology in the army in the recent years, fewer men are capable of carrying out the same operational tasks now, and several military reforms are underway to improve the army’s tooth-to-tail ratio.
The tooth-to-tail ratio means the number of personnel (tail) required to support a combat soldier (tooth). In 2018, the army said it was looking at cutting more than 150,000 troops over the following five years under an overarching cadre review to sharpen the force’s effectiveness and prepare it for future wars.