In one of the major reforms of this decade, Indian Army has decided to start a new cadre of officers who will be commissioned initially as Junior Commissioned Officers(JCOs) and will retire as Lt Cols after serving 30 years. This will address the shortage of officers at junior levels and will also improve the promotional aspects of regular commissioned officers.
The last formal review of cadre re-structuring in Indian Army was done in 1984. Later, a mini review in the form of AV Singh Committee (AVSC) was carried out after Kargil operations in 2002-04. This review did bring in some changes in the officer cadre, however overall structure of rank and file was kept the same. The present comprehensive restructuring is therefore coming after a gap of 35 years.
The British Indian Army was led by British officers to uphold loyalty to the British Crown. But, the personnel below officer rank (PBOR), the natives of India, were separated from the British officers by language, socio-economic status, local customs and life style. To bridge this gap the British Army felt the need of having junior leaders of similar background as the natives. They were entrusted with some additional authority to command and control a group of soldiers during operations and peace time. In 1929-30, they were given the status of ‘below officer rank’, but above the natives. The authority and powers of these junior leaders were not laid down in any manuals / documents. British officers in command (in field) were privileged to employ these junior leaders according to the situation.
After Independence, our Army continued with the British system of JCOs.
Weaknesses in present system of JCO/NCO
One may argue that if we have JCOs at present, why not promote them and make them officers? However, there are lots of weaknesses in the present system which prohibits employment of present cadre of JCOs as officers. Following weaknesses have inhibited the growth of leadership qualities in PBOR :-
(a) Age factor of JCOs. The present system of rank structure of other ranks starts from Sepoy and goes up to Sub Major. Its merit based and also on time scale basis. By the time one reaches rank of Nb Subedar, he is already above 40 years and lost most of zeal and initiative which is required in a young officer.
(b) Levels of education and intelligence. Earlier the soldiers were selected from very low educational levels and even 8th pass were recruited as soldiers. The educational levels of these jawans don’t change much in service and when they become JCOs, they don’t have required education to work life officers.
(c) Limited exposure to various situations in initial years of training and service. In the initial years of his life the work of a soldier is more or less very mundane administrative tasks under supervision. They don’t get enough opportunities to exercise their intellect and thus grow as such.
(d) Introducing regionalism, nepotism and favoritism. This happens when you spend lots of years as soldiers.
(e) Fear of being looked down upon among colleagues and losing face. After serving 20-22 years together, if they start behaving too suave, they may be ridiculed by their peers.
Highlights of the Proposed System
- The entrance exam including SSB will be same as that for officers ( for Direct entry scheme).
- During SSB, choice will be given to candidates who have missed out on marginal basis (between 5% of passing marks for officers) to opt for JCO cadre.
- Enrolment and medical of JCOs will be same as that of officers.
- Age limit and other educational criteria will be similar to that of CDS exam.
- OTA Gaya or other suitable academy will be used for training of this cadre with similar routine which is being followed presently.
- After about 9 months of training JCOs will be commissioned into units with six months On the Job training.
- Basic courses as applicable to officers will be also conducted for them.
Promotion and Service Norms
- The enrolment will be in the rank of Naib Subedar.
- The individual will be granted time scale promotion every five years till the rank of Subedar Major.
- After that the policy for promotion of officers will be followed.
- The individual become Lieutenant after 15 years of service.
- He will retire at 30 years of service.
- Likely rank of retirement will be Lt Col.
Number of JCOs
- Directly enrolled JCOs will form around 50% of young officers.
- Will ensure availability of junior officers in units.
- ORs will also get chance to induct into JCO cadre through written and SSB similar to present system of Special Commissioned Officers (SCO) entry.
Advantages of New System
- Will address availability of officers, especially at junior levels.
- Better promotion aspects for regular officers.
- More competition at lower levels due to more number of young officers and thus better work efficiency.
- Better employability of regular officers. Regular officers will be able to pay more attention to operational tasks leaving administrative duties with direct commissioned JCOs.
Drawbacks of New System
- Promotion only up to Lt Col rank - may discourage many.
- Existing JCO cadre may feel sidelined.
- Friction between officers commissioned directly and those coming via JCO rank.
- Dilution of intake standards is not recommended at officer level and may cause problems in operations.
The Way forward
- Many Armies including USA follow system of direct recruitment.
- Re-structuring is the need of the hour due to financial constraints and rising aspirations of the regular cadre.
- New paradigm in the warfare needs new approaches.
- Government need to make sure that its scheme of lateral entry works in right earnest.
New system may bring cheer to many deserving candidates and bring in much needed reforms in the army if implemented in the right earnest. It is a good system and will address lots of shortcomings of the present cadre structure. Overall, a very positive step.