The Selection Centre, North, in Kapurthala has gained notoriety even before its move to permanent location in Ropar. There are strident demands to wind it up, using the analogy of the erstwhile centre in Meerut, which was closed after a major scandal in the 90s.
This centre was set up in 2015 to reduce logistical and travelling requirements for candidates in North India, who had to travel to other centres like Bhopal, Allahabad and Bengaluru. Army HQ was firm on starting the interim centre in Bhopal. It required considerable persuasion on the part of the Western Command. Consequently, units made considerable sacrifice, in the already cramped Kapurthala station, to create space.
While the issue is under investigation, prima-facie, the system of selection is fairly objective. As many veterans would testify, the triad of interviewing officer (president/deputy), group testing officer and civilian psychologist (with veto) preclude unilateral manipulation and this delicate balance is difficult to compromise.
The redeeming factor in the current case is that no psychologist has been booked as yet. Cadets booked in the reported case are from SL, NCC and technical entries, which are without UPSC written examinations, though there are reports of NDA entry also being affected. Concurrently, worrying aspects are proliferation across two boards, link with recruiting directorate and involvement of medics, which is even more serious.
It may be that well-placed rotten apples have monetised information, followed by linking with medical officers. It is hoped that there will be time-bound and thorough investigation, followed by rigorous legal process. The aim should be to set an example. It is also important to review the system to build additional safeguards to obviate such reprehensible trends. Integrity check of officers being deputed to SSB and medical needs to be made more thorough.
Dependency on single medical appeal board in the base hospital should be randomised by multiple boards. Some credit is also due to vigilance authorities and COAS for flagging and handing over investigations to CBI promptly.
The current selection system needs thorough review to build in transparency and objective pragmatism. A recent PIB report based on graduate level CDS entry found that for 100 vacancies in the Army, 2,614 passed written and only 50 made the SSB cut, resulting in 50% vacancies not being subscribed despite critical shortages in officers amounting to 15%. Navy could fill only six vacancies against the projected 45 (13% selection rate) out of 1,429 who passed the written examination. Air Force had 32 vacancies and of 632 passing written test, 26 made the mark, amounting to 81%. The net overall selection rate in SSB remains less than 2%.
While there are enough candidates for NDA, but the real challenge lies in finding good candidates for support cadres like Short Service and in-service entries from jawans. Abysmal selection rate in SSB, despite enough candidates passing written exam, raises disturbing questions, both on account of input and selection model. Is the system out of tune with our current education system? After all, nearly 25 lakh students go through NCC, NSS, Nehru Yuvak Kendra, RIMC/Military/Sainik/Army schools, preparatory academies like Ranjit Singh Academy, besides private coaching institutions. It is a matter of great concern as to why we are not able to motivate and prepare enough quality candidates.
Opening of more Sainik Schools continues unabated as a vote catching mechanism. It is time for performance audit and some disincentives in such government funded institutions. DIPR, part of DRDO, is entrusted with the responsibility to prepare selection parameter for SSB. The model needs to be validated by reputed external agencies like IIM/XLRI. It may be prudent to accept more candidates and weed them out during training and service through promotion/retention examinations, as is the trend in other Armies. This will also cater to wastages during training, which are showing a worrying rising trend. There is recurring tendency, to rubbish following generation of officers as Mofussil boys, compared to earlier blueblooded class.
Stellar performance of Capt Vikram Batra, Capt Manoj Pande and others from rural Bharat in Kargil and proxy war, should be an overdue ‘shut up call’. Army needs to get over the hesitation to accept in service officers drawn from jawans through ACC, SCO and SL entries. The need is to train them better for support cadre utilisation as majority doesn’t rise beyond Colonel rank due to age handicap. Even women officers should be trained and harnessed to fill in their share, without compromising medical and other standards.
While we need more officers but much touted Tour of Duty (ToD) scheme will be merely a cosmetic tool to embellish CVs. If we are indeed serious, prescription was spelt out in 1997 and approved by then PM I K Gujral. Proposal envisaged induction of police officers through common entry and training followed by compulsory three to five years with Army units in field areas. The proposal was buried by vested lobbies between North and South blocks. It is time to tweak it by making it compulsory for five years for CAPFs. Police officers should also serve for three years, as meaningful ToD.
Adequate incentives in the form of additional allowances and fellowships can be built in. Need for CAPFs and police officers to acquire Army ethos has been endorsed by parliamentary standing committees. Police officers, after Army stint, will also help alleviate problems of veterans. Such reforms, mooted many times earlier, can find traction only with a strong government like the current one, committed to sharp focus on security and seeking accountability of bureaucrats.
(The writer is former Army Commander, Western Command)
Views expressed above are the author’s own.