The Tour of Duty Scheme Has a Sticking Point: How Many Soldiers Can Serve to Retirement Age?

After reports of its possible announcement triggered an outcry, the defence establishment is looking into options to determine the exact percentage of soldiers who can be retained permanently under the proposal.

The government is in the midst of a hectic discussion, according to officials, and a final decision on the scheme’s exact contours is expected any day now.

Sources said the sticking point remains the ratio between soldiers who can be released after a fixed tenure and those who can be retained until the age of retirement, as outlined in the Tour of Duty (ToD) scheme.

Approximately 25% of Indian Army soldiers are expected to be released after three years, and another 25% at the end of five years, according to the latest draft of the plan.

The remaining 50% of the Army members would serve until they reach retirement age.

Additionally, two other options are also being considered. One is to permanently retain 33% of the soldiers while releasing 33% of them after three and five years, respectively.

Second, 40% of the total soldiers recruited would be retained, but 60% would be released between three and five years after recruitment. The sources said the percentage of technical manpower among those retained would be higher.

A source said that various options are being examined in order to find the best option that will save defence pensions without compromising operational edge.

The source continued that the Army is pushing to retain the maximum number of soldiers, which can be gradually reduced over time rather than an immediate reduction.

According to the latest draft of the scheme, soldiers could be retained up to 50%.

According to the sources quoted above, it is also being investigated whether trained personnel released from the Army upon the expiration of their short-term contracts can be absorbed into paramilitary forces, thereby reducing the latter’s training costs. This is still under discussion.

In the last two years, recruitment rallies were stopped due to the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a shortfall of 1.1 lakh soldiers. This is growing by about 5,000 soldiers every month.

As a result of an anticipated decision on the new scheme, recruitment to the Armed Forces remains on hold. Currently, only a few recruits are being trained in regimental centers, and some instructional staff have been sent back to operational units.

The sources quoted above said that along with the new scheme, a proposal to reduce the Army’s strength by around 15% is also being discussed. “It may be implemented in conjunction with the TOD, which will result in a readjustment of the shortfall created over the past two years.”