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By Bulbul Singh

22 May 07. The Indian defence forces, and its defence laboratories, are facing serious shortages of qualified officers. An official of the Defence Ministry said there is a shortage of 11,000 officers in the Indian Army alone and over 1000 officers have intimated the Ministry to leave the Army.

Protracted low intensity warfare with militants in Jammu and Kashmir, lack of adequate promotional channels and superiority of the bureaucracy over the serving officers, are the main reasons for the fall-out which will affect the combat worthiness of the Indian army.

The Defence Ministry official said overall there is a shortage of 14,165 officers in all the three wings of the Indian Army, Navy, and the Indian Air Force but the land forces continued to be hit the hardest by shortage officers. The Army has a shortage of 11238 officers, whereas the Navy and the Air Force have a shortage of 1399 and 1528 officers respectively.

The number of pilots of the Indian Air Forces leaving the services is on the rise as well. In 2004 128 pilots took premature retirement, 77 in 2005, 56 in 2006 and up to April 2007 16 Pilots have taken premature retirement.

The Indian Defence Ministry official said the Indian government spends around $2.3m on one pilot and the attrition of pilots is worrisome.

The shortfall of officers is not confined to the Indian defence forces alone but also to the defence research laboratories of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, (DRDO) and the state owned companies making military equipment.

India’s sole aircraft manufacturer, state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)is facing attrition of senior engineers. In all, 917 employees in the rank of assistant engineers, engineers, deputy managers, managers and above have left the organisation since 2003. In 2006 alone, 409 employees quit HAL for lucrative jobs said the Indian Defence Ministry official.

The latest report of the Standing Committee of Parliament on Defence has noted with concern the trend of attrition among service officers. The report notes, ‘The Committee is given to understand that between 2001 and 2004 more then 2000 officers applied to leave the Army. These included two Lt. Generals, 10 Major Generals, 84 Brigadiers and the remaining Colonels and below. The situation in the Indian Air Force is even more distressing. Against this, very few Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service (Bureaucrats) and other central services officers have opted to leave their services prematurely.’

Sources in the Indian Army say, besides the shortfall in Indian Army officers there is an increase of suicides and fratricides among the troops, especially those engaged in low intensity warfare in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The source said that in the last four years over 500 Indian troops have committed suicide or were killed by their colleagues.

The Indian Army sources said that the shortfall in service officers is mainly on account of poorer advancement channels compared to the bureaucratic and the power of the bureaucrats over the service officers. One Indian Army officer said the posting of a commissioned officer is decided by a small level bureaucrat in the Indian Defence Ministry who continue to be very powerful adding that the service officers do not like being bossed around by the bureaucrats in the current scheme of system

Indian Army sources said that the ranking of a service officer in the Pakistani society is very high compared to that of India adding that the rising attrition could ultimately tell on the battlefield one day as the combat worthiness of the army is dependent to a large extent on the man then the machine.

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