An exhausted paramilitary trooper during last year's street violence across J&K
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Dec 11
Bowing to years of pressure from the armed forces, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) has agreed that retired military personnel will make up 10% of the combat strength of all central armed police forces.
According to a defence ministry (MoD) press release today, Defence Minister Shri AK Antony informed the Parliamentary Consultative Committee for Defence that “The MoHA has agreed to fill 10% of the Group ‘B’ posts in Central Paramilitary Forces from among Ex-Servicemen.” Group ‘B’ consists mainly of combatants.
Antony also stated “efforts are now being made to persuade public sector undertakings and the private sector to tap this invaluable reservoir of talented and disciplined Ex-Servicemen.”
The “Central Paramilitary Forces” that Antony mentions include the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF); the Border Security Force (BSF); the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF); the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP); the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB); and other smaller forces.
Going by the government’s own definition that was formalised in March 2011, Antony erred in terming these “Central Paramilitary Forces”; the correct term is “Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs).” A “paramilitary force” is an armed force that is officered by serving military officers. India’s only “Central Paramilitary Forces” are the Assam Rifles; the Special Frontier Force; and the Coast Guard.
The MoHA’s acceptance of ex-servicemen comes as a double relief for the MoD. The defence services have a growing pension bill (Rs 34,000 crore this fiscal) for soldiers, sailors and airmen who retire as young as 35, after 15 years in uniform, and draw pensions for the rest of their lives. Post-retirement employment with a CAPF would postpone their entitlement of pension. It would also free the MoD of responsibility for rehabilitating them.
The military has pushed this case since 1997-98, when army chief, General VP Malik, suggested that CAPFs re-enlist half of the 50,000 soldiers who retire from the army each year. The army’s suggestion was to reduce colour service --- the period for which an individual is recruited into the army --- to just 7 years. After that the fully trained soldier would join a CAPF. This would make the army younger; and also stiffen the CAPFs’ combat capabilities with trained soldiers.
“This win-win proposal was strongly backed by the 5th and the 6th Pay Commissions; but the MoHA resisted it. The army will welcome the 10% opening given to ex-servicemen. It is a good beginning,” says Brigadier (Retd) Gurmeet Kanwal, who framed the original proposal in 1997-98 and now heads the army’s think tank, Centre for Land Warfare Studies.
The MoHA’s objections are detailed in the 29th report of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence. North Block objected that absorbing soldiers who had served 7 years in the military would make the CAPFs older and greyer. The parliamentary committee rebutted that, pointing out that the average soldier is recruited at 19 years and would be just 26 years old after 7 years of military service. Since the age limit for recruitment into CAPFs is 26 years, ex-servicemen would qualify even as fully trained soldiers.
The MoHA then protested that soldiers have a proclivity for excessive force, whereas the CAPFs must function with a softer touch. The Standing Committee responded that soldiers, who are extensively employed in counter-insurgency operations in J&K and the northeast, have conclusively demonstrated the restraint that such situations demand. In a sarcastic aside, the Standing Committee noted that CAPF restraint emerges mainly when face-to-face with Naxals and militants.
The biggest sticking point, however, was the 7 years of seniority that soldiers would carry, giving them a promotion advantage over direct recruits into the CAPFs. The MoD has agreed that direct inductees’ promotion vacancies and salaries would be suitably protected.
There are more than 7,50,000 persons in the CAPFs, which have a combined budget of more than Rs 25,000 crore in the current fiscal.