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Challenges of Human Resource Management in the Indian Army by Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal

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Author: Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd)
Human Resource Management in the Army is an extremely vital issue because its strength has always been its soldier. It has been aptly said that institutions do not transform – its people do; platforms and organisations do not defend the country – people do. Of the Army‘s sanctioned strength of 47,762 officers, the held strength is only 36,790.

This shortage is not of recent vintage. The shortfall ranged from 12 to 15 per cent in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Emergency and short service commissions spurred by wars during that period were the preferred approach to bridge the gap. The next three decades however, saw the shortage rise up to 24-25 per cent. Significantly there are no deficiencies in the higher ranks of Colonel and above. The criticality is of the prescribed annual induction in the Army of 2,240, where actual intake in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 was 1,599, 1,892 and 2,275 respectively. This corresponds to 67, 72 and 102 percentage. The upward trend is encouraging and is likely to again surpass the authorised intake in 2012. Two main areas of concern where the intake has been marginal are the Direct Entry (DE), Gentleman Cadets (GCs) in the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun and the Short Service Commission (Non-Technical), SSC (NT) GCs in the Officers Training Academy (OTA), Chennai – IES in the lower part of the pyramid at the level of captains, majors and lieutenant colonels.  This is being redressed. Against a sanctioned strength of 1,650, 500 and 1,800 at IMA, OTA and NDA respectively, approx 1,850, 700 and 2,025 cadets are undergoing training. The Academies are overflowing by over 200 cadets each. A most informative article by the former Adjutant General.

 

Human Resource Development is an essential command function and, in this context, it needs to be understood that the soldier of tomorrow has to be an innovator who can combine imagination and knowledge with action – Indian Army Doctrine 2004

Some of the characteristics that are vital for soldiers of the future are:

  • Quick decision making capability, greater mental mobility and adaptability
  • Capacity to handle higher stress levels
  • Capability to handle independent assignments
  • Higher technical competence
  • Greater motivational levels and higher standards of junior leadership
  • Better administrative skills

The Indian Army is a highly motivated, optimally equipped, modernised and operationally ready force, capable of functioning in a joint services environment across the entire spectrum of conflict. As a major component of national power 2, the Army along with the Navy and the Air Force is entrusted with the primary role of preserving national interests and safeguarding the country‘s sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity against external threats, either by deterrence or by waging war. It also has a secondary role of assisting government agencies to cope with ‘proxy war‘, other internal threats and also providing aid to civil authorities when requisitioned. Given the complexity of tasks it has to perform, it is imperative that it is manned by individuals who are loyal, responsible and professionally competent. Orchestration of human resources in the Army, therefore, needs to be accorded the highest priority so as to unleash the full potential of the men and material that constitute the organisation.


Human Resource Management in the Army is an extremely vital issue because its strength has always been its soldier. It has been aptly said that institutions do not transform – its people do; platforms and organisations do not defend the country – people do; and units and formations do not sacrifice and take risks for the nation – people do! It is therefore, evident that without highly skilled, competent and dedicated soldiers in its rank and file, it matters little how lethal the weapon systems are or how strategically responsive the field formations are trained to be. More vital are the men behind the weapons, who truly execute the mission. The enormity of the task can be gauged from the fact that the Army has about 12 lakh serving soldiers3 in its rank and file and it also has to cater to the needs of over 22 lakh of its veterans who have retired from service.

What is special and distinct about the Army is the very high emphasis on delivering the goods even at the cost of laying down ones‘ life. This makes the Army the final bastion and invariably the most reliable asset that the Nation can fall back upon during the hours of crisis.

“Human Resource Development is an essential command function and, in this context, it needs to be understood that the soldier of tomorrow has to be an innovator who can combine imagination and knowledge with action.”4 –Indian Army Doctrine 2004.

Challenges of managing human capital

Challenges in relation to nature of conflict. National Security in the present day environment is an aggregate of both external as well as internal threats.5 Economic compulsions and the global environment have reduced the threat of all-out wars between nations. Future wars are likely to be short and intense and will witness the employment of
high-tech weapon systems with comparatively larger scales of damage and destruction. The probability of joint operations, including with other armies of the world, have also increased manifold. The world is seeing a spurt of a new kind of warfare called ‘Fourth Generation Warfare‘ encompassing terrorism, internal destabilisation and economic blackmail aimed to undermine the very sovereignty of a nation.

 

The project, which was conceptualised and initiated just about a decade back, has grown by leaps and bounds and constitutes 426 polyclinics, providing medical cover to about 12 lakh veterans and more than 27 lakh of their dependents. It also has on its rolls over 1,300 private hospitals spread over 170 stations, which have been empanelled to supplement the polyclinics that are already functional

Given the dynamics of future conflicts, it is imperative that the Army prepares itself to meet these challenges head-on. Organisational and equipment voids, which hither-to-fore were considered acceptable, may not be the case in the future. Staffing of formations and units, including that of reserves, also need to be maintained at the optimum level at all times to ensure operational effectiveness.

The spectrum of conflict for which the Army needs to be prepared for and the demands of the future battlefield environment on the human resources element necessitate that the soldiers inducted into the Army be qualitatively superior to what was expected earlier. Some of the characteristics that are vital for soldiers of the future are:

  • Quick decision-making capability, greater mental mobility and adaptability.
  • Capacity to handle higher stress levels.
  • Capability to handle independent assignments.
  • Higher technical competence.
  • Greater motivational levels and higher standards of junior leadership.
  • Better administrative skills.

 

Challenges in relation to the changing socio-economic environment

The Army taps its manpower from the populace at large and perforce it needs to be sensitive to the societal changes that take place with the passage of time. A growing economy, globally interdependent, advanced technology and a flourishing private sector now offer unimaginable opportunities to India‘s youth. Overall development necessitates moving rapidly towards an educated and aware workforce. In the case of the Army it translates moving from a ‘brawn force‘ to a ‘balanced brain-cum-brawn force‘. With all the agencies trying to tap the cream, talent is at a premium. Attracting, retaining and motivating the best talent is a constant challenge for the Army in the present circumstances and the problem is likely to become more acute in the coming years. Some of the challenges that confront the military leadership are as follows:

Nuclear family norms. Lack of security and support hitherto provided by the joint family system and hazards of the now largely prevalent nuclear family norm has resulted in soldiers having to take on additional pressures of their domestic front. The joint family system provided inherent security, both physical and economic and invariably motivated the soldier to give his best without any apprehension. This protective shield vanished with the breakdown of the joint family norm, leaving the soldier to fend for himself and his family. The problem gets more accentuated when the families are located at places which are not within convenient commuting distance of their duty stations. A conscious effort, therefore, is being made to ensure that the interest of the soldiers in operational areas is taken care of by providing separated family accommodation in military stations within easy travelling distances.

Once inducted into Service, the aim is to retain the human resource for the optimal period, while constantly making an endeavour to enhance their professional and individual growth so as to ensure that the 1.2 million strong Army remains highly motivated and committed

Pressures due to exigencies of service. Exigencies of service often make it difficult for men in uniform to strike a reasonable balance between their home and the professional front, at times leading to problems like depression, suicide and fratricide.8 Grant of leave at periodic intervals with liberal travel facilities and connectivity to ensure that he constantly remains connected with his loved ones is, hence, very essential.

Hazards of service life. A career in the Army is accepted in the civil street as one fraught with immense risks. The perception has been further aggravated by the increasing deployment of the Army for various tasks ranging from counter insurgency to counter terrorism, apart from the conventional role that it is meant for along our troubled borders. What needs to be ensured is that the compensation offered to the next of kin must be adequate in terms of financial independence.

Increased aspiration levels. The present day youth look for improved quality of life, better pay and perks, assured career progression, appropriate educational and housing facilities, good medical backup, equitable status with their civilian counterparts and better post retirement benefits. The paradigm shift in the quality of intake required for the Army, both at the officers level and for JCOs / ORs warrants that adequate incentives be made available to attract the right material, motivate them to join the services and thereafter retain them in service.

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