Hopes Belied: Pay Commission Report has failed to Attract or Retain Good Officers

Ten bright army officers of the rank of Colonel have reportedly declined to sign a five-year service bond that is mandatory for officers selected for the Higher Command Course and the Higher Defence Management Course, both designed to train officers for higher ranks in the army, because attending these prestigious courses would prevent them from opting for premature retirement. Earlier, on April 29th, the Defence Minister had disclosed in Parliament that this year, of the 300 selected candidates for vacancies for the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, only 192 had turned up for the course. Similarly, for a course strength of 250, only 86 candidates had turned up at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. And, 120 army officers are reported to have opted for early retirement after the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission were released.
The inability to both attract the right talent for the officers class in the armed forces and then retain them through their career should be a cause for serious concern for the Government of India. The print and electronic media have given wide coverage to the failure of the Sixth Pay Commission report to meet the aspirations of the officers and PBOR (personnel below officer rank) of the armed forces. The government has appointed a committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary and comprising the Defence, Finance and Home Secretaries, to look into the anomalies in the recommendations of the Pay Commission and suggest remedial measures. It is a travesty of the principles of natural justice and sound administration that there is no member of the armed forces on this committee when the armed forces are the affected party. 
It has been a long-standing demand of the armed forces that a separate Pay Commission should be appointed for them as a general-purpose Pay Commission cannot possibly be expected to fully grasp the hardships and privations that they face on the borders as well as in peace stations and the trauma of frequent separations that their families are subjected to. However, no government has so far had the courage to override the bureaucrats. In fact, no government has deemed it appropriate to even appoint a former Chief of Staff of the army or the navy or the air force as a member of any Pay Commission.
Consequently, the government has failed to create sufficiently attractive conditions to excite the imagination of India's youth to join the armed forces as officers and to retain those who are serving at present, so that they do not leave in droves for more lucrative assignments in the corporate sector. There is a shortage of over 11,000 officers in the army alone.  The NDA and IMA have consistently failed to attract suitably qualified candidates. This growing shortage has begun to adversely affect the cutting edge junior leadership of the armed forces, especially of the army that has heavy operational commitments in border management, counter-insurgency and internal security – all of which are driven by junior leaders. There is now a need to think out of the box and adopt innovative approaches to resolve this burgeoning problem.
The solution apparently lies in a re-vamped short-service entry scheme which offers lateral induction into civilian jobs after five years of service in the armed forces. Such a scheme, if it is attractive enough, will succeed in filling all the vacant positions and will reduce the pension bill. Multiple benefits will accrue to the nation if a short stint of "military service" is made compulsory for all aspirants for the Central Services, including the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), the Indian Police Service (IPS), other Allied Services, the Central Police and Para-military Forces (CPMFs) and other similar organisations. All new recruitment to these services should be channelled only through the armed forces, for men as well as women.
Soon after assuming office in 2004, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had mooted a proposal to select candidates for the IAS and the Allied Services after the 12th standard, with a view to catching them young and moulding them for a career in the bureaucracy. These young candidates could be trained at the NDA, which provides the finest all round education at the under-graduate level in India. It would be in the national interest for the budding central services officers to do some military service for about four to five years, during which they would be exposed to a disciplined way of life, gain hands-on experience of man-management, inculcate leadership qualities, imbibe values and ethics and learn to be officers and gentlemen.
To give effect to this win-win proposal, all entry into the Central Services should be through the armed forces after training at the NDA and other services academies. After four to five years of commissioned service and exposure to active operations, the officers should be given three chances each to appear for the Union Public Service Commission examinations and interviews for lateral transfer into the IAS, IFS and the Allied Services. Those who wish to transfer to the CPMFs such as the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force should be permitted to do so.  Those who do not qualify could chose to continue to serve in their respective service or opt to leave with a reasonably attractive golden handshake at every five year interval.
Armed forces officers joining the central services will be trained leaders of men, some of them baptised under fire, and would have had the unique privilege of commanding men in active operations. Above all, they will have the opportunity to serve the national cause in many strife-torn corners of the country and will gain first hand experience of the problems of the local people. Their acquaintance with and insights into the unique diversity of India's culture and traditions, reflected in the armed forces, would surely stand them in good stead in the remaining 30 to 32 years of their service. It is a proposal that can be quite easily implemented and an idea whose time has come.