Attrition: Corruption Kills The Indian Officer Corps


January 24, 2008: The Indian Army is short 24 percent of its officer strength, and is considering conscription as a solution. The air force and navy are also short, but only by 12-15 percent. But it's not just officers that are hard to get and keep. Technical specialists are in short supply, which is a growing problem as the army adds more high tech gear. The basic problem is that the army must compete with the civilian economy for highly trained or educated personnel. The army maintains high standards for officers, thus trying to eliminate the shortages by more aggressively recruiting young NCOs for officer candidate school doesn't work because too many of the NCOs cannot pass the entrance exam.

Moreover, India is at war, with troops getting killed and injured in Kashmir, the northeastern tribal areas, and fighting Maoist rebels in eastern India. The casualty rate is actually quite low, but just serving in a combat zone is hard on the nerves, and not attractive to many educated young Indians.The result is best demonstrated by looking at who applies to what school. The elite Indian Institutes of Management gets 200,000 people applying each year, for 1,200 slots. The Indian Military Academy got only 86 applications for 250 slots.

The Indian military has long been an all-volunteer force, and had no trouble filling the ranks. But over the last two decades, as the government dismantled controls on business, and privatized many government owned companies, the economy has boomed. There are not enough qualified technical and management people to fill all the skilled jobs. India has been looking at how other nations solve these problems. They have noted American success (over the last four decades) in outsourcing a lot of support jobs. This is almost a necessity with some high tech specialties, where even civilian firms face shortages. Another American technique, cash bonuses for jobs with shortages, is more difficult for India, which much less money to spend on defense.

While many generals see officer conscription (via mandatory officer training and service for university graduates) as inevitable, many citizens and politicians oppose it. But the generals point out that the problem has been around for a decade, and is getting worse. The additional workload on the officers they do have is forcing many to quit because of the overwork.

The source of the problem, in a nation of 1.1 billion, is the corruption in the primary school system. Teaching jobs in many parts of the country are considered political patronage. These teaching assignments are handed out to political activists, with the understanding that they are no-show jobs. So, despite a lot of money being put into primary education over the last half century, the illiteracy rate is still 39 percent.




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