There is a tradition of Generals,Admirals and Air Chiefs swearing by Kilo,Lima,Charlie,Delta or the other squadrons they belonged to during their days at the National Defence Academy (NDA).
Today officer shortage backed by bureaucratic delays and reasons unknown,gentlemen cadets belonging to three newly raised squadrons,Panthers,Quebec and Romeo,may not recall their squadrons with so much fondness. They are forced to stay in plastic porta-cabins.
The increase in cadet strength at NDA was prompted by shortage of officers in the Indian Armed forces. The academy breached the 2000-cadet mark in May 2011 from 1,800. Today,the total number of cadets is over 2,100.
The squadron strength was raised to 18 from 15. While the 16th squadron,Panthers,was raised in 2010,17th squadron Quebec and 18th squadron Romeo were raised in 2011-12.
But three years after the NDA created the 16th squadron not a brick to house them has moved on ground zero.
In fact,even the ad-hoc arrangement,porta-cabins as they call it,were inaugurated by former Army Chief General V K Singh in March last year.
While the Panther squadron will be part of the fourth Battalion,Quebec and Romeo squadrons will be part of the newly created fifth Battalion. The NDA was initially established to accommodate and train 1,500 cadets. The Academy presently trains more than 2,000 cadets including 68 from friendly countries. With the increase in cadets,and a further rise expected,a need was felt to reorganize the squadrons. This has been done to improve command and control,provide for close supervision of training and better administration, NDA had said after V K Singhs visit.
The first mention of creation of 16th squadron was in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) annual report of 2010-11. The government has accorded in principle approval for raising the 16th squadron at National Defence Academy,Khadakwasla,which is likely to be completed by June 2013. The additional intake of 120 cadets will assist in overcoming shortage of officers in the Armed Forces, the report said.
And while the June 2013 deadline set by the report is nearing,the academy has just disclosed the requirements for constructions needed for the 16th squadron at a cost of Rs 1.55 crore with no mention of the 17th and 18th squadrons.
Another example of the chasm between planning on paper and ground reality is evident from the fact that when the academy strength has gone up to 2,100 cadets,the most recent report of the Standing Committee on Defence tabled in Parliament in August last year still spoke of accommodating only 1,920 cadets.
Sanction for the 16th squadron at NDA has already been accorded. This has enhanced capacity of NDA from 1,800 cadets to 1,920. A proposal for raising the 5th Battalion at NDA with 4 new squadrons is under consideration, it said thus highlighting the much evident gap between planning and execution. Permanent accommodation for about 360 cadets is thus not visible in near future.
At the NDA cadets squadrons are a tradition and whether a Hunter or a Mike squadron wins cross country or bags a Presidents banner is followed by officers across the three services with great enthusiasm. The walls of a squadron are occupied by proud displays of historic achievements of its meritorious alumni and the squadron spirit is what drive cadets,besides the spirit of camaraderie and jointmanship,the very basis of foundation of this tri-services academy. I am not sure if porta-cabins instill that kind of camaraderie, a former NDA physical training officer said.
Another retired general who visited the academy recently said,I felt like crying. The academy looked better in 1960 when we had lesser funds. Despite no shortage of funds,this is the condition of the NDA.
The NDA refused to reply to a detailed questionnaire sent by this paper.