The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) Wednesday approved implementation of the first phase of recommendations of the Shekatkar Committee which pertain to the Army. These reforms involve redeployment and restructuring of approximately 57,000 posts of officers, soldiers and civilians in the Army. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley announced that 65 of the 99 recommendations have been approved for implementation. The Ministry of Defence has already begun with the decision to close 39 military farms in a time-bound manner.
These reforms will improve operational efficiency of the Army by pushing soldiers from non-operational duties to operational tasks. It will free manpower to raise new combat units and increase the strength of existing units.
According to a release by the ministry, the first phase will be completed in all respects by December 31, 2019. Aimed at enhancing combat capability and improving efficiency, these reforms are internal to the Army. Jaitley clarified that these reforms are part of an ongoing process and not related to the recently-concluded standoff with China at Doklam.
The ministry had constituted an expert committee under the chairmanship of Lt General (retd) D B Shekatkar with a mandate to recommend measures for enhancing combat capability and rebalancing defence expenditure of the armed forces with an aim to increase “teeth-to-tail ratio”.
The committee submitted its report in December 2016 and was considered by the ministry. Its recommendations included far-reaching ones pertaining to higher defence organisation, restructuring and staffing of the ministry, ordnance factories and Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA).
While deferring the recommendations involving itself, the ministry chose 99 recommendations which were directly concerned with the three defence services. The minister approved 65 of these recommendations, pertaining to the Army, for implementation.
Sources in the ministry said that recommendations pertaining to the Air Force and Navy are still under discussion with the services and will be announced in due course. The recommendations of the Shekatkar Committee pertaining to higher defence reforms are being studied at the highest levels.
When his comments were sought, Lt Gen Shekatkar said: “This is certainly a welcome step and a good beginning. The committee made a total of 188 recommendations, out of which 99 were initially approved by the Defence Minister. Now they have ordered implementation of 65 of those 99. I hope that in due course of time the government will not only implement the 99 but also the remaining ones. Implementation will result in significant saving of manpower, funds and infrastructure. It will improve quality, accountability and answerability.”
“My only fear is that those who sit behind the files in centres of power do not scuttle this issue because of the fear of losing their own empire. These recommendations will result not only in better combat potential but also combat endurance, both of which are crucial,” he said.
In its report, the committee had warned that implementation of its recommendations cannot be selective. It had reiterated that redeployment of manpower and downsizing of some of the organisations under the ministry will have to be across the board, and ruthless, to be effective.
In its release, the ministry did not mention any timeline for implementation of the remaining phases of the report. A decision on those recommendations will be closely watched, as they include creating consensus among the services and will affect the decision-making process at the ministry.
The restructuring announced Wednesday takes forward plans announced by the Army in 2015 after its internal studies whereby the teeth-to-tail ratio was to be improved. The restructuring was to be led by Army Staffing and Establishment Committee (ASEC) at Army headquarters, but those recommendations were largely incorporated in the Shekatkar Committee report.
Reforms approved in this phase include restructuring of repair echelons in the Army to include base workshops, advance base workshops and static/station workshops in the field army; redeployment of ordnance echelons to include vehicle depots, ordnance depots and central ordnance depots apart from streamlining inventory control mechanisms; better utilisation of supply and transport echelons and animal transport units; closure of military farms and army postal establishments in peace locations; enhancement in standards for recruitment of clerical staff and drivers in the Army; and improving the efficiency of the National Cadet Corps.