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Restructuring Indian Armed Forces: Proposed changes to peacekeeping missions, promotions and healthcare defy logic

The proposed changes to the system of functioning of the Indian Armed Forces would be fine if they were aimed at upgrading, modernising and making the military more efficient. But some of them defy logic. The proposal to send to send to the UN peacekeeping missions only those officers who failed to get into the Defence Services Staff College at Tamil Nadu's Wellington, in the Nilgiris, is a doozy. Where once we sent the best to show off our might, we will now dispatch lower calibre officers who couldn’t make the grade. How is this designed to show our armed forces in the best light globally?

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

By the same token, it is difficult to look for virtue in the plan to ‘downgrade’ those who complete Higher Command and National Defence College courses, both highly prestigious qualifications that position you for star ranks. In the same vein, no extra marks for undergoing the technical staff officers course (TCOS) or the Staff College, thereby making these efforts redundant.

Amusingly, taking Chinese, Tibetan, Bhutanese, Burmese language courses will be equivalent to these top military oriented courses thereby equating tactics and strategy in the art and science of war with essentially a diplomatic ability to speak a native language: mutually exclusive talents, but no one is seeing that.

From the days of the unfinished business of One Rank One Pension, to the melting of the cantonment sanctity to cutting free rations for those in peaceful areas to limiting canteen services, the list of meddlesome new schemes has been regularly lengthened with the top brass of the military showing the resistance of marshmallows. There are even plans afoot to drop the rank of brigadier while that of colonel is the most redundant and arbitrary in that some hop right over it.

Then there is the latest icing on the cake. A recent resolution to open the Outpatient Department of the five military hospitals in Uttarkhand (MH Dehradun, MH Lansdowne, MH Ranikhet, MH Roorkee, 161MH Pithorgarh) to civilians—on the grounds that it being a hilly terrain, the facilities are limited—has the army appalled. That sorry confession is bad planning by the state government. Get the facilities. That is their job.

Overloading military hospitals already stretched at the seams handling vets and their families is not the answer. And while army chief General Bipin Rawat may be permitting this experiment in his own state, it can catch on across the country and create total chaos. The irony is that even as the facility is being commandeered, the post of director general medical services lies vacant with the most senior aspirant Major General M Ganguly being compelled to seek redress in court because his promotion and command are not being cleared.

As a result of his petition, the Supreme Court quashed the appointment of Lieutenant General Sanjiv Chopra as DGMS, thereby creating an unseemly conflict in the higher ranks, something that is just not done and never was the norm in the armed forces. Brother officers were not pitted against one another.

Before so generously opening the doors to civilians, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman would do well to assess the pressure on the military hospitals. She does not have to venture far. New Delhi’s Research and Referral Institute, the finest in the forces, is a monument to the impossible being accomplished every day. Doctors put in 18-hour days, their dedication is truly valiant and the waiting time for tests and results from a backed up system is way out of kilter. The corridors resemble a railway station: The lines of elderly parents of officers and men are sinuous and courtesy is preserved and is of the essence—despite the pressing demands—because it is the armed forces. That in itself must be exhausting.

The dated building, the stretched resources, the ad hoc arrangements and yet, the best possible attention: that's a severe contrast. It is not inconceivable that most outpatient departments in the 112 military hospitals, 12 air force hospitals and 9 naval hospitals will go the same way. This medical access is a privilege owed to the men and women of our forces. Let them have it. Even as these bewildering events are occurring, there is also a political fallout with BJP MP and former minister Major General BC Khanduri being removed this week as chairman of the Standing Committee on Defence.

In March, Khanduri attacked the government for the critically low stock of armaments, and said 68 percent of equipment of the armed forces belongs to the 'vintage' category. His successor, former Union minister Kalraj Mishra, is 75-years-old. So another point of contention goes thus: Anyone who bats for the forces gets shown the door. As the situation on the border remains tense, it seems the government is making no effort to give the uniform its due. Do we need a war to back off with messing with military rights and traditions?


Updated Date: Sep 22, 2018 16:26 PM

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