New Delhi: The government on Wednesday announced significant reforms to the Indian Army to enhance its combat capability and also optimize expenditure.
This is the first time that any government has undertaken such a move, which most analysts agree should have happened long ago. Some add that more could have been done.
The reforms involve the redeployment of 57,000 personnel, optimization of communication arms and the closure of military farms.
“The net effect of this is that various functions in the army will be reorganized in the changed environment of economy and technology," said defence minister Arun Jaitley.
The government said it has decided to implement 65 of the reforms recommended by the Lt-Gen. (retd) D.B. Shekatkar committee that submitted its report last year.
The committee was mandated to recommend measures to enhance the combat capability of the army and rebalance defence expenditure to increase the “teeth to tail ratio".
The teeth-to-tail ratio refers to the amount of supply and support personnel (tail) for each combat soldier (tooth).
The Indian Army has 1.3 million personnel.
“It is a big reform and has been carried out in consultation with the army," Jaitley added.
The move is unlikely to result in any job losses and the process is expected to be completed by 31 December 2019.
Although no numbers were announced in Wednesday’s press briefing following a meeting of the Union Cabinet during which the decision was taken, reports at the time the committee presented its findings (December 2016) said that the recommendations, if implemented, could save Rs25,000 crore over the following five years.
Apart from the redeployment of personnel, the measures also include optimization of supply, transport and ordnance infrastructure and the closure of 39 military farms and several military postal departments in so-called peace locations.
Deba Mohanty, head of New Delhi-based Indike Analytics, a research firm on defence and strategic affairs, said the move has long been resisted by the armed forces, and added that the government has been resolute.
“This is an issue whose time should have come long back. Still, better late then never. A manpower-intensive army with ageing systems and platforms must undertake periodic scrubbing of its overall structure in order to make it battle-worthy in a digital age," he said, listing three areas that the reforms are expected to affect.
One, redeployment or demobilization of manpower will help in rightsizing, which in turn will enhance combat capability development. Two, optimization of signals establishments as well as restructuring of workshops and depots will help the army shed superfluous assets. Many of these responsibilities can be handed over to private firms with adequate safeguards, Mohanty explained. And three, the closure of farms could release vast land parcels, bringing in material value for the state.
“My argument is that the army should not be permitted to engage in real estate business; rather such assets should be developed by civilian authorities," Mohanty said. Such initiatives should be complemented by induction of sophisticated systems and advanced training, he added.
More could have been done, though, according to Laxman Behera from the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (Idsa), a think tank.
“The measures are welcome but fall short of drastic measures that are required to enhance combat effectiveness of the army. Pay and allowances of Indian Army (personnel) at present are simply unsustainable."
According to Idsa, the army accounts for 57%, or Rs1.49 trillion, of the country’s defence budget.