In the first major attempt to reform and restructure the Indian Army since Independence, the government has approved 65 of the 99 recommendations of the Committee of Experts led by Lt Gen (Retd) (Dr) D B Shekatkar, tasked with turning our Armed Forces into lean and mean fighting machines. In its report tabled in December 2016, the committee suggested ways to dramatically improve the Army’s ‘teeth to tail ratio’ while optimising and rebalancing defence expenditure.
Announcing the approvals after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by the PM, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday said these reforms were aimed at ensuring that the Forces were geared to deal with the rapidly-changing environments of technology, economy and combat capability. The first phase involves the redeployment of approximately 57,000 posts, closing down 39 military farms and several Army postal departments in peace locations, and the ‘optimisation’ of signals, ordnance and transport, including animal transport units.
All this is expected to be completed by 31 December 2019. While these are much-needed steps which ought to have been taken long ago, several recommendations of the Shekatkar panel remain unaddressed. These include increasing the retirement age of jawans by two years, which will help the Army save significantly on pensions and training, and the creation of the post of a permanent chief of defence staff—who would be the single point contact for the military with the government.
Currently, one of the three service chiefs officiates as the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee (COSC)—more or less a ceremonial role. Earlier committees too had recommended such a position, but differences over the role and its scope are yet to be sorted out. While the three forces and the bureaucracy worry about losing their respective turfs, politicians fear putting too much power into such a post. One can only hope that the imperatives of national security override these concerns soon.