A transparent promotion system and opportunities for re-employment after retirement are the need of the hour
Lt Gen. Mukesh Sabharwal (retd)
Talk to any retired army officer about what their thoughts were on promotion prospects when they joined the Indian Army some 30 to 40 years ago. Almost 95 per cent of them would say that such a thought never even crossed their mind. Officers, who have joined the army in the last decade or two, are considerably more aware of their likelihood of success but I can wager that the percentage of such officers even now would not be over 50 per cent. For most, it is still a call for adventure, an outdoor life, and for quite a few it is an avenue of employment.
At the initial stages of their career, an officer is fairly content living his regimental life in peace or field, training or operations, oblivious of what lies in store for him, except the fact that he must do well for himself and the regiment. It is after he attains the rank of major, starts attending his career courses and steps into a family life that good postings and promotions begin to influence him. Little does he realise how his career is about to shape from then onwards.
The structure of the officer cadre is based on the authorised strength of officers determined on the basis of functional requirement at various levels. Maintaining a large number of young officers is an organisational and functional necessity as the responsibility of leading men into battle rests with the junior cadre. Such a large inescapable base of the pyramid leads to a low selection rate and very high supersession in the select ranks at the top of the hierarchical structure.
It would surprise many that the lieutenants, captains and majors constitute almost 80 per cent of the non-select cadre with lieutenant colonels accounting for another eight-nine per cent. The select ranks comprise the remainder 11-12 per cent with the colonels having the major share. Brigadiers and generals account for less than three per cent at the apex. About 50-60 per cent officers get superseded at every successive select rank and block cadre mobility, as they continue to remain in the system till superannuation. Early retirement is one of the main reasons that make the armed forces an unattractive career.
The minimum pensionable service is 20 years. The irony is that by 15 to 17 years of service, an officer is clear about his future prospects at the time the results of the first promotion board are declared. A very small percentage of officers are cleared in the review promotion boards that are held in the subsequent years. Even the success rate of redress of grievances is marginal.
A regular officer gets commissioned into the army at about 22 years of age and a short service officer at about 24 years. As soon as the first promotion board is over, half the officers of a batch find themselves superseded. Yet, there are a couple of years to reach their pensionable service. Most of them have been condemned to a life of supersession and failure not because they were not competent but because they were ‘low in the relative merit’, as the Complaints and Advisory Board generally states in its speaking order.
A majority of these superseded officers have been graded eight out of a maximum of nine points in their Annual Confidential Report (ACR), which by any institutional or industry standards is an excellent grade. The pen picture of such officers contains glowing tributes to their professionalism and performance. Yet, they do not find a place for themselves in the army’s mainstream, not because they do not measure up to the grade but for the fact that the army is constrained to include them in their select ranks because of a lack of vacancies.
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