Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rehabilitating retiring soldiers: Use them to combat Maoists and Naxalites

Wednesday, September 21, 2011, Chandigarh, India The Tribune by Lt-Gen Harwant Singh (retd)
More than 80 per cent soldiers retire at the age of 36 or 37 years and their annual number is almost 50,000. They do not even reach the midway point of their pay band, miss out on increments, get pension based on the point in the pay band they are retired, missing out 24/23 years of higher pay if they, like all civilian government employees, had to serve up to the age of 60 years.

Consequently, they suffer multiple disadvantages. Retired too early and given inadequate pension, they, in addition, lose out on the largesse of at least two subsequent Central Pay Commissions. After taking the best years of a soldier’s life, we throw him out to fend for himself in the harsh realities of life: to find a job in mid-life.

The Defence Minister has finally realised that ex-servicemen do need a second career. According to him, they could be accommodated in Central Police Organisations (CPOs — now called CAPFS), government jobs, etc, and that he will also write to the states to employ ex-servicemen. Surely, he should know that instructions to the states and the CPOs already exist to that end, but are not implemented. Simply because implementation of orders/instructions, enforcement of laws, timely completion of projects, etc, are extremely poor in this country. Above all, there is so much money to be made in fresh recruitment!

This trained manpower, instead of being taken as a national asset, is simply being wasted, resulting in an ever-increasing number of disillusioned veterans. The government must work out a comprehensive scheme to absorb this trained and disciplined manpower into gainful employment. Some percentage must be taken into government jobs, the CAPFS, the railways, the state police, the forest departments and so on. Some others can be given technical training so that they can run their own little establishments or join the industrial force. These schemes will be implemented only when an Act of Parliament to this end is passed.

CAPFS units presently deployed against the Maoists and those special state police units created to deal with the Maoists, no matter how fanciful a name one may give them, (Grey Hounds, Cobras, etc) have simply not been able to measure up to the job. Reinforcing these units, presently fighting the Maoists, with retiring soldiers will not do. The latter will soon acquire habits and work culture prevalent in these units.

The deficiency with these units is of leadership, which has failed to train their men and are unwilling to lead and share the risks faced by their constables, etc. Thus, policemen of all hues, ill trained as they appear to be, are being routinely killed in large numbers while their officers do not figure even among the wounded! How come in every “fire-fight,” Maoists are always successful in carrying away their dead! There is the other issue of morale of this constabulary. At the last Independence Day function policemen were given around 900 gallantry awards. This is an unusually high number. According to Sun Tzu, the great Chinese soldier and scholar, indiscriminate grant of gallantry awards to a force is a sure sign of low morale. There is complete failure to infiltrate these groups with intelligence organisations’ own operators (moles). Consequently, the police is being perpetually surprised.

Raising more CAPFS and state police units in any form will not do, as these have simply not been able to meet the Maoist challenge. Moreover, these units will be on the country’s pay rolls for the next 40 years and on the pension list for another 15 to 20 years: long after the Maoist problem would have disappeared. Therefore, raising of such units should be stopped and instead financial resources earmarked for these be deployed for the betterment of people in the Maoist-affected areas. The practice of outsourcing an anti-Maoist operation to SPOs and Salwa Judum groups must be ended. Such groups tend to become law unto themselves, settle personal scores, indulge in contract killings, kidnapping, etc, as it happened in Punjab during the eighties and the early nineties. Such vigilante groups are no solution for combating insurgencies.

Based on the indications from the Ministry of Home Affairs, the military is reported to be working on raising two Corps with Rashtriya Rifles (RR) units. RR battalions have been formed by milking regular units. This has resulted in serious deficiencies in the regular units, particularly of officers. This shortage is impacting training, administration and operational fitness of these units. Raising more RR units will aggravate this problem. It amounts to dealing with one problem and creating another far more serious. Further, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir does not appear to be stable enough to pull out RR battalions from there. In case these are raised as an additional manpower, the problem would be the same as in the case of raising more police units.

A better and cheaper option is to raise military units from the retiring soldiers, who are already trained. These units should be headed by Short Service Commission and other officers who retire early. It may be advisable to take some retired and yet young brigadiers and maj-generals who have a vast experience of counter-insurgency operations. This should be taken as their second career, spanning five (for officers) to 10 years (soldiers), with pay and gratuity in addition to the emoluments earned earlier. For cohesiveness and integration of personnel into well-organised units, it would be preferable to form them out of their original groupings — Dogras, Jats, Kumaon, the Artillery Regiment, etc.

Where possible, officers for these units too should be from the same groups. Brigade and divisional headquarters as well as corps headquarters can be formed mostly from the pool of retired officers and others. This force should be mandated to operate across state boundaries and work in consonance and in coordination with the CAPFS, state police forces, intelligence agencies and state governments. Such an arrangement will prove an effective instrument to completely eliminate the Maoist problem in a span of five to 10 years, which otherwise has all the portents of spreading. While these new units and formations are given six months to organise, integrate and train at the regimental centres, minimum essential temporary accommodation must be there in various locations where these units and formations are to be housed. Once such a proposal is accepted, the other details can be worked out.

The eventual remedy for the Maoist problem lies in undertaking developmental work in the affected districts. Therefore, anti-Maoist operations and developmental work must go apace; these should be well coordinated and be complementary to each other. While we go hammer and tongs after the Maoists, every step must be taken to avoid collateral damage and mishandling of innocents and those caught up in the vortex of Maoists violence. Operations should be coordinated by all agencies.

The Maoist problem needs urgent attention. Though the Prime Minister considers it as the most serious threat to internal security, there is much delay and procrastination in the proper tackling of this menace. Left inadequately addressed, it will spread, with grave consequences for the country’s stability and progress.n
The writer is a former Deputy Chief of Army Staff.
The Tribune: Rehabilitating retiring soldiers

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