Govt clears army re­forms

Mint ST - - FRONT PAGE - BY TARUN SHUKLA & GIREESH CHAN­DRA PRASAD 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.

tarun.s@livemint.com

AP

This is the first time that any gov­ern­ment has un­der­taken such a move.

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