Indian Army set for major reform: MoD clears 65 Shekatkar panel recommendations
In what is being hailed as one of the biggest reform exercises in the Indian Army post independence, the Ministry of Defence has agreed to implement 65 of the 99 recommendations made by the Lt General (Retd) DB Shekatkar committee.
The implementation of the first phase of these reforms will lead to the redeployment of 57,000 Indian Army officers and others in more combat-oriented roles.
The decision to approve these recommendations was taken by the Defence Ministry on Monday, and announced by Arun Jaitley, who, in addition to being the Union Finance Minister, holds the additional charge of the Defence portfolio.
Jaitley went on to add that that the decision was taken after extensive consultations with all stakeholders, including the Indian Army.
“The Ministry of Defence had constituted a Committee of Experts under the Chairmanship of Lt Gen (Retd) (Dr.) DB Shekatkar with a mandate to recommend measures for enhancing of Combat Capability & Rebalancing Defence Expenditure of the Armed Forces with an aim to increase teeth to tail ratio,” said Jaitley.
A military term, the teeth and tail ratio refers to the number of military personnel it takes to supply and support each combat soldier.
He went on to add that the accepted recommendations will be operationalised by end of 2019, and that the process of “operationalisation begins now”.
Jaitley said there were several far reaching recommendations, which would improve the efficiency of the Army and help in redeployment of forces.
Asked whether these reforms were being undertaken in view of the recent Doklam stand-off between India and China, Jaitley said: “This is not specific to any incident. It had been going on much prior to Doklam.”
He went on to add that the Union cabinet had been informed about the Defence Ministry's decision to initiate reforms in the armed forces.
According to a Defence Ministry press note, the first phase of reforms includes optimisation of signal establishments; restructuring of repair echelons; redeployment of ordinance echelons; better utilisation of supply and transport echelons and animal transport units; closure of Military Farms and Army postal establishments in peace locations; enhancement in standards for recruitment of clerical staff and drivers in the Army; and improving the efficiency of the National Cadet Corps (NCC).
The Ministry went on to add that implementation of these recommendations had already begun after the approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security to close 39 military farms in a time-bound manner.
Meanwhile, the fate of other recommendations of the Shekatkar Committee still hangs in the balance.
The committee's recommendations
The Union government, in 2015, constituted an 11-member committee headed by Shekatkar to make recommendations on enhancing the combat potential of India's armed forces, rationalising the defence budget, and improving the teeth-to-tail ratio. The main aim of the committee was to suggest ways to reduce expenditure and use the surplus for enhancing the army's fighting capabilities.
The committee, set up by the then-Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, comprised top military officials and defence experts, and submitted its report in December 2016. The foremost aim of the high-powered panel was to reduce the revenue budget of the Defence Ministry.
An internal analysis by the ministry had earlier revealed that a significant portion of its budget was spent on salaries and pensions, leaving no room for capital expenditure on modernisation and capacity building. In the 2016-17 Budget, Rs 3.4 lakh crore was allotted to Defence, of which a mere 34.7% went into capital expenditure, which was 3.6% less than the previous year. In fact, since 2008-09, a bulk of the ministry's budget is being spent on manpower costs, and not at improving combat capabilities.
Later, the committee claimed that if a majority of its recommendations were accepted, it would lead to the government saving Rs 25,000 crore in the next five years, which could then be invested in modernising the Indian Army's combat capabilities.
Its other recommendations included raising the retirement age of jawans by two years which would save the army significant amounts in training and pensions, calling for a downsizing of veterinary corps, which looks after horses and mules, and sending only retiring personnel to the NCC to save the army from deputing active soldiers in avoidable duties.
The final report also pushed for the creation of the post of Joint of Chief Staff, who according to the committee, would become the single point of contact for coordination between the government and the armed forces. Another major recommendation included increasing the Defence budget to 2.5-3% of the GDP.
It also suggested that non-combat institutions like the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), NCC, Ordnance Factory Boards, among others, be subjected to more scrutiny by conducting regular performance audits. According to the committee, any research on outdated projects should also be abandoned at the earliest.
Setting up of a joint service war college for training officers was also part of its recommendations.
The committee's final report had furnished close to 200 recommendations, forcing the ministry to cut it down to 120. Of these, only 99 were given final approval by the Defence Ministry.