Army wants attractive package for SSC officers

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NEW DELHI: The Army top brass will once again ask the government next week to swiftly clear the long-pending package to make short-service commission (SSC) more attractive to ensure enough bright youngsters with “officer-like qualities (OLQs) join the force.

The week-long Army commanders’ conference, with General Dalbir Singh Suhag and chiefs of the six regional commands and one training command, will kick off on Monday. While operational matters like the government proposed move to downsize the new mountain strike corps will be taken up, the 1.17-million force also wants to tackle the huge shortage in the “fighting ranks” of its officer cadre, said sources.

Though military salaries have substantially gone up after the 6th Pay Commission, youngsters still find them poor compared to the corporate sector, especially for a life which is tough and risky. Poor promotional avenues in the Army’s steeply-pyramidal structure as well as frequent transfers that disrupt family life and children’s education are the other reasons that dissuade youngsters from queuing up. Lack of adequate officer training capacity in the armed forces is, of course, another big factor.

As part of their force-restructuring to attract youngsters, stem the greying profile and improve career prospects for permanent commission (PC) officers, the Army also recommended that the package for SSC officers — who serve a maximum of 14 years in uniform – be made much more attractive.

Gen Suhag admits the existing 4.7 (PC):1 (SSC) ratio of officers in his force is “skewed” since the SSC officers do not get a good deal. Holding that there is a shortage of people volunteering for SSC, he says the Army wants to move to “a desired ratio” of 1.1:1.

But the SSC package is still stuck in the finance ministry, even though some of the measures have been cleared by the defence ministry. The re-employment of SSC officers for another four years after their 14-year tenure, for instance, has already been approved by MoD.

Among the other measures is lumpsum payout to SSC officers exiting after 10 years or 14 years, with 20 or 36 months of salary, respectively. Another proposal is to give SSC officers, who serve beyond 10 years, the status of “ex-servicemen” and therefore make them eligible for post-retirement benefits like access to medical, canteen and other facilities like PC officers. Similarly, SSC officers could also get fully-paid study leave for one to two years during their tenure to undertake professional courses.

The Army hopes such measures will attract youngsters with the requisite OLQs to join as SSC officers. It will also help the promotional prospects of PC officers if a bulk of the officers exits the service after 14 or 18 years.

As reported earlier by TOI, the Army is short of 9,642 officers in its total “authorised strength” of 47,574. Alarmingly, almost the entire shortfall is in the ranks of lieutenants colonels, majors, captains and lieutenants, who lead troops into battle.

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