CAN WE MAKE MILITARY SERVICE COMPULSORY FOR INDIANS?

The following are the facts and figures placed on the record by a Parliamentary Panel pointing out at glaring deficiency of officers and other ranks in the Armed forces of India.

There is a shortage of 7,679 officers and 20,185 Junior Commissioned Officers/Other Ranks in Army; 1,434 officers and 14,730 sailors in Navy; and 146 officers and 15,357 airmen in the Indian Air Force.

As per the information furnished in another report of the committee, in case of army officers, the sanctioned strength is 49,932 whereas the held strength is 42,253.

With regard to JCOs/ORs, the existing strength is 11,94,864 as against an authorised strength of 12,15,049.

In the Navy, against a sanctioned strength of 11,827 officers, the strength is 10,384. In case of naval personnel, the present strength is 57,310 against a sanctioned strength of 71,656 men.

In the IAF, the sanctioned strength of officers is 12,549 while the actual personnel figure is 12,340. In the case of airmen, the present sanctioned strength is 1,42,529 while the present strength is 1,27,510.

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Can you imagine every Indian man and woman over the age of 18 years, attending compulsory military training?

Many nations including Singapore, Israel and Switzerland have compulsory military service.

So can we implement something like this in India? Will it be of any benefit? Are there any drawbacks of such compulsory services?

Let us argue both sides of the coin.

CONSCRIPTION is the technical term defining compulsory military service by people between 18–24 years of age.

South Korea, Singapore, Israel, Iran, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, etc. have conscription still prevalent in their politico-military set up.

The basis of conscription lies with the need to build a sizeable defense force for a particular country (mainly countries with less population). On the other hand, Indian Army is the largest ‘completely’ volunteer army of the world. Each and every person in Indian defence forces has volunteered for the job he or she is doing.

THE CASE OF SINGAPORE

In Singapore, all able-bodied male citizens of 18–21 years of age are required to serve 24 months of compulsory national service in the Singapore Armed Forces, the Singapore Police Force, or the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Upon completion of full-time National Service, they undergo reservist training cycles of up to 40 days in a year for the next 10 years.

The majority of conscripts serve in the Singapore Armed Forces, due to its larger manpower requirements. Almost all conscripts undergo basic military training before being deployed to the various services- the police, or Civil Defence Conscripts, known as National Servicemen, hold leadership positions as commissioned officers.

THE CASE OF CHINA

Conscription is enshrined in Article 55 of Constitution of China, which states: “It is a sacred duty of every citizen of the People’s Republic of China to defend his or her motherland and resist invasion. It is an honoured obligation of the citizens of the People’s Republic of China to perform military service and to join the militia forces”.

As of 1998, the legal basis of conscription was stated to be the 1984 Military Service Law, which describes military service as a duty for “all citizens without distinction of race (…) and religious creed”.

The Chinese system operates through a process of ‘draft registration’.The process for registering for the draft is written in Part 13, Article II of the Military Service Law of the People’s Republic of China.

Men who reach the age of 18 should register for the draft by June next year.

This law has yet not been utilised in China (was never needed till date!)

IS IT POSSIBLE IN INDIA?

Yes, the Constitution of India provides for Conscription.

The right against exploitation, given in Articles 23 and 24, provides for two provisions, namely the abolition of trafficking in human beings and Begar (forced labour), and abolition of employment of children below the age of 14 years in dangerous jobs like factories, mines, etc.

An exception is made in employment without payment for compulsory services for public purposes. Compulsory military conscription is covered by this provision.

ADVANTAGES OF CONSCRIPTION

Compulsory conscription is inevitable for smaller countries with deficient manpower to defend itself.That explains the case of countries like Singapore, Israel, Korea etc.

But it does have its merits in larger countries, like India also.

  •  Compulsory military service can give person a sense of discipline and patriotism.
  • The Army also offers numerous chances of basic as well as higher education. Compulsory military training can be taken up after graduation and could be completed anytime before graduation. After military training, the person should be given a choice of joining the Armed Forces or doing compulsory social work.
  • This will provide the Armed Forces with trained volunteers and the volunteers will get valuable experience that can count for school/college credit as well as an impressive resumé.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST CONSCRIPTION

Who will bear the cost?

Even with a completely voluntary army, Indian defence forces are reeling under deficiency of arms, ammunition and other resources. We are spending a huge amount of resources on maintaining a 1.3 million strong armed force. And I hope you realise, we are talking of conscription of approximately 1.3 Billion (not million) population! You do the maths!

Even in Israel, the military has openly considered cutting the number of recruits so that it has more resources to spend on equipment and training. Currently, draftees only serve 2 or 3 year terms, depending on gender. The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) would rather have fewer soldiers, and get to spend more per soldier.

Israel spends almost $3,000 per person (that is, person in the country) on its military. Israel spends a higher proportion of its budget on defense than any developed nation, and gets a defense subsidy from the USA too. To match Israel’s spending per soldier, India would have to spend twice its GDP on its military, which means 100 times more than what we do now. Even if India only drafted men for two years, it still couldn’t afford to adequately arm them.

 SO WHAT IS THE WAY FORWARD?

For India’s vast collection of unemployed youth, the military is a good calling.The educated youth don’t really prefer the Aṛmy as a profession, as they know they have a ready market for their talent.

  • Is mass recruitment through alternate channels like compulsory service the best way for the Army to get higher caliber officer cadets?
  • Will the best still leave?
  • Will the training provide the hook needed to rope in the best brains for the officer cadre?

So this is where we get stuck!

IMHO, there has to be a middle way. I am awaiting your suggestions. Please reply in the comments below.

Adv.Sidharth Arora

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