By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29 Sept 15
A five-kilometre beachfront crescent of sparkling white sand. Dappled sunlight on the water of the bay broken periodically by leaping dolphins. Backwaters lined with coconut palms. While this sounds like a tourist resort, it is in fact the Indian Naval Academy (INA) at Ezhimala (pronounced Erhi-mala), where a demanding four-year syllabus transforms youths into the naval officers who man the country’s warships.
As the warship fleet expands, so does the need for more officers. When India’s newest destroyer, INS Kochi, enters service on Wednesday, the navy will be authorised an additional 40 officers and 350 sailors --- the vessel’s authorised crew.
By 2027, when the current 152-warship navy (including 15 submarines) reaches its planned level of 198 warships, the navy will need 13,700 officers. That is 30 per cent more than the 10,600 officers authorised today (the navy actually makes do with barely 9,000). To train so many officers, the INA will double its capacity from the current 1,300 cadets to 2,700 cadets.
“We have the job of ensuring the navy’s officer numbers increase in step with its equipment holdings”, explains Vice Admiral Ajit Kumar P, the INA commandant.
The INA’s scenic campus is also geared to train 80 foreign cadets from countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tanzania and Namibia, who regard India as the region’s predominant naval power. The navy regards training as an important component of naval diplomacy in the Indian Ocean.
Until 1985, when a much smaller navy required fewer officers, cadets were trained at a smaller establishment at Kochi. That year, training shifted to INS Mandovi, Goa. In 2009, the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, inaugurated INA Ezhimala. Now, every single naval officer passes through this academy.
Located 35 kilometres from the north Kerala city of Kannur (formerly Cannanore), Ezhimala is steeped in India’s maritime history. Mount Dilli, rising sharply from the sea to an altitude of 260 metres, was a traditional navigational landmark for Arab traders sailing their dhows to India. History records that Vasco da Gama, the first European to voyage to India in 1498, landed in Calicut. In fact, many historians agree that accounts of his landfall after crossing the Arabian Sea indicate he landed first at Mount Dilli, before sailing onwards to Calicut.
Presently, the INA is a major presence at Ezhimala. At a cost of Rs 800 crore, Phase I of the project has built capacity for training 750 naval cadets. Phase II, which has been allocated another Rs 340 crore, will boost the capacity to 1,200 cadets. In fact, a desperate need for more officers means that 1,300 naval cadets are already training here, with infrastructure struggling to catch up.
Rear Admiral MA Hampiholi, the navy’s assistant chief of personnel, explains that a shortfall of training capacity forces the navy to make do with 13 per cent less officers than it is authorised, 18 per cent less sailors and 26 per cent less civilians. Expanding Ezhimala is essential for making up officer numbers.
“Creating officers requires a gestation period. For example, the indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, will be commissioned in 2018. But we need sanctions for those officers now so that they are available in 2018”, explains Hampiholi.
If producing so many officers were not difficult enough, the navy has taken on the extraordinary challenge of training all its cadets as engineering graduates. Ezhimala has an academic affiliation with Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, for granting cadets a B.Tech degree after four years of study, which is recognised by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
Naval cadets from the tri-service National Defence Academy, who must follow three years training at Khadakvasla, Maharashtra, with a year of specialist naval training at Ezhimala, must do an additional year of distance education for their M.Sc. degrees in applied sciences.
“To ensure that our cadets can cope with this tough combination of academics, physical training and specialist naval subjects, the navy has taken up with the Union Public Services Commission for an eligibility cut-off of 70 per cent marks in candidates’ 10 + 2 examinations. This would make joining the navy academically tougher than joining the air force or army”, says Ajit Kumar.
The navy’s Manpower Perspective Plan envisions that, by 2027, the fleet will need 13,700 officers, 85,000 sailors and 75,000 civilians, compared to just 8,700 officers, 50,000 sailors and 43,000 civilians today.