The Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that Short Service Commission (SSC) Officers of the Indian Army will now be permitted to use their service ranks post-retirement. SSC officers like their Permanent Commission (PC) counterparts are commissioned officers in the Indian Army. Officers from this entry scheme undergo training at the Officers Training Academy (OTA), Chennai, and serve for 10-14 years, following which they have the option of extension for four years and then PC, which is subject to vacancies and other administrative considerations.
SSC Officers: Dealt a Shorthand?
However, despite being officers and serving in the same operational environments as their brethren from the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Indian Military Academy (IMA), Retd SSC officers were not officially permitted to use their military ranks while ex-servicemen who retired from the army through other officer entry schemes could. This distinction despite the entry scheme not having any bearing on the service profile or operational role stuck out with SSC officers like a sore thumb.
This is probably the most trivial of defence reforms. The long-pending demands to make SSC more attractive for bright youngsters, that includes several proposals, including paid study leave and golden handshake at the end of their tenures of 10 to 14 years, is yet to be approved.
What the ministry announced
The Defence Ministry recognised the longstanding grievance and took the decision. The Defence Ministry stated, “SSC officers, after completion of their mandated terms and conditions of service, had not been authorised to use the military ranks. This has been causing dissatisfaction and discontentment among the SSC officers who serve under the same service conditions and face similar hardships with a similar service profile. “This decision of the Government will not only remove dissatisfaction and discontentment among the retired SSC officers but will serve as a big boost to the young aspirants. In addition, this decision will act as morale booster for the existing SSC officers.
“The demand for use of military ranks by SSC officers after release from service has been pending since 1983. The SSC officers form the backbone of the support cadre of the Army. They serve for a period of 10-14 years to make up for the deficiency of young officers in units. There have been several attempts of making the SSC attractive. Permission to allow the use of military ranks by these officers has been one of their major demands. “Unlike in the past when SSC officers used to serve for a period of five years, now they serve for a tenure of 10 years, further extendable by four years. The SSC officers provide a support cadre to the officers’ cadre of the Army and has been created primarily to provide young officers to the units.” Concluded the ministry in its statement.
“This decision reminds me of the famous Hindi adage, ‘Der se aaye lekin durust aaye.’ Short service officers are already using their rank in officers’ institutes, CSD canteens and ECHS. The announcement by the MoD is considered merely a stamp.” Said Major General CD Sawant (Retd) and SSC entry, on the announcement.
SSC officers have earned laurels for the army
Speaking about the Defence Ministry’s announcement, Maj Gen. Raj Mehta, AVSM, VSM (Retd), who underwent training at the Officers Training School, (later OTA, Chennai) and commissioned in January 1968 said, “They (MoD) have done no favour to these men and women officers who have spent the best years of their lives in uniform. Why make it sound like a favour? A few have died doing their duty.” He added that “such respect is given to military officers worldwide and the MoD is following the accepted universal norm. We should therefore view it as something expected from MoD as recognition of the honour involved with wearing a soldier’s uniform across gender.”
everal SSC officers have earned accolades and made the “supreme sacrifice” during their service: The late Brigadier Chandpuri whose actions at the iconic ‘Battle of Longewala’, during the 1971 Indo-Pak war led to a major victory despite facing overwhelming odds. The battle was won with a single casualty on the Indian side. The officer was played by Sunny Deol in the blockbuster (1997) Bollywood movie ‘Border’. Brig. SS Shekhawat, one of the Indian Army’s most decorated serving officer and renowned mountaineer, who led the complex Loktak Lake operation as the commanding officer (CO) of 21 Para Special Forces was another SSC entry.
Major Kaustubh Rane, who was posthumously awarded the Sena Medal, (and then Bar to Sena Medal) for his actions in preventing an infiltration attempt in Jammu and Kashmir was an SSC officer. Similarly, Maj. Vibhuti Shankar Dhoundiyal, another SSC officer, had eliminated a key terror figure involved in the 2019 Pulwama terror attack. He was posthumously awarded the Shaurya Chakra for his actions.
Both of their wives joined OTA, Chennai as a tribute to their husbands, and are on their way to becoming SSC officers themselves. The decision is a long-pending move to officially accord equal status to SSC with PC officers. The words of a young army Major deployed in insurgency enviorns in India’s northeast surmises the long-standing issue, “If the enemy’s bullet does not distinguish then why should the establishment?” The ministry decision is seen as a step towards the same.
A question on Pension
A Member of Parliament and Member of Legislative Assembly gets a pension after completing 5 year term, but an SSC Officer who has completed 5 years of service does not get a pension.
Rear Admiral Alan O’Leary (Retd) says’ “Whereas it is true, that there are considerable shortages of officers at the junior levels of the army this does not justify why the Services should induct, train, use and then discard these officers, without pension benefits, when they attain the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. I wonder how justifiable is the fact, that SSC officers are inducted not only to fill vacancies at the junior level, but also to populate the base of the triangle, so that PRC Officers have a better chance of climbing the ladder. The nearest description would be ‘to act in a subordinate role’. How fallacious therefore it is for the services to state that these officers function in a subordinate manner. They, like their counterparts are employed in every conceivable operational role and take their position as per their rank and seniority. In the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court, in the celebrated DS Nakra vs the UOI, the SC has stated unambiguously, that pension cannot be considered or denied, at the will and whim of an employer, especially when the employer is the Government that should be a model employer. This judgment decreed, that pension is a deferred wage.
“Since this is now, a widely accepted view, then the question that will arise is, ‘where has that deferred wage element’, contained in the wages of an SSC Officer disappeared? Since there is no difference between the pay of a PRC Officer and an SS officer, then that element, if not translated to a pension should be reimbursed to him/her either while in service, or on superannuation.”
“It has never ceased to make me wonder, as to when the Armed Forces Headquarters took upon themselves the onerous task of helping out the Government in solving the pension burden of the exchequer..Can denial of pension to a large percentage of service officers make a meaningful difference to the Indian economy?” he asked.