Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Brig V Mahalingam

If the news paper reports that the Army has made a proposal to replace Sahayaks with two civilian appointees, namely Service Assistants (SA) and Non–Combatant Assistants (NCA) is authentic, then the Army has done a Mohammad – Bin Tughluk. One wonders if the organisation does not consider it necessary any more, for the officers to put service above self. Why isn’t anyone talking about Sahayaks in the Police or Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF)? Is it because a Sahayak is indispensible in these forces unlike the Army? Has the role of the Sahayaks in the efficient functioning of commanders vanished especially in respect of fighting units and formations that they have chosen to delete the post?

Delete post or amend job profile – an HR goof up?   

The normal method of HR professionals everywhere in the world is to delete the specific duty from the job profile of a particular post when an assigned duty is not valid anymore. Establishments do not end up scrapping the post just because a specific duty is no more relevant.

If the intention of the Government or the Army was to make sure that soldiers are not made to perform duties which are demeaning or not expected of a soldier, all that was required was to amend the job profile of Sahayaks suitably and punish individuals who overstep the laid down duties. It is nothing more than mere absurdity to delete the appointment of Sahayak and create a new job designated as SA or NCA to replace the existing Sahayaks, those too, non combatants in a fighting unit with all its inherent security implications.

When you talk of work which is demeaning, what about a safaiwala, a combatant who apart from cleaning a wash rooms in the peace stations cleans and maintains the dugout field latrines in training and in operational areas? Is that not demeaning? Should we also replace him? What about those who are using these field latrines which are almost uncovered? Isn’t that demeaning?

Is the alternative to the Sahayak a quagmire?

Should we have the SA or the NCA to draw weapons for officers or should the officers go to the armory to collect their weapons? Should they carry the order book of the day to various commanders to keep them informed of the instructions passed during the day by various functionaries? What happens in a field or an operational area? How do we deal with the labor laws, EPF, ESI labor unions and strikes? What about the specified numbers of hours of duty and the weekly holiday?

Duties and work load of an Army officer in combat arms – peace stations

The job of an army officer in combat arms is not like that of his civilian counterparts where the duty commences at 10 AM and ends at 6 PM. It is also not one of specific nature like working in an office, attending meetings or attending to visitors. There are no fixed timings or working hours. The attire and the equipment for every occasion are different based on convenience and need.

The Army Officer’s day starts with a physical activity which may be Physical Training (PT), Battle Physical Training (BPET) or Physical Proficiency Training (PPT). The rest of the day’s training may include weapon training, firing, field craft practice, battle drill rehearsals, mine laying drills, live mine training etc. In the evening he participates in Games Parade where he plays troops games which give him an opportunity to know his men more informally. At least on four nights in a week he is involved in night training, checking guards and sentries, food tasting in Jawans’ lunger, visit to the dormitory of the men, mandir parade, instructors briefing for the next day, etc.

In addition to these, there are the courts of enquiries, boards of officers, routine paper work, promotion cadres, checking of armories, stores, Duty officer duties etc which consume his time. Inspections and related maintenance work pertaining to arms, ammunition, ordnance equipment, telecommunication equipment and administration etc, organizing and conducting formation sports, professional competitions, demonstrations, discussions and model exercises sub unit, unit and formation training camps, training exercises and test exercises are in addition.  

Work load in operational areas

As far as the operational areas are concerned, it would be sufficient to say that operations especially at platoon and company levels are carried out almost on a daily basis. In counter insurgency areas, troops do not get more than one to two nights in bed in a week. Units and teams move out for operations around midnight so as to be able establish a cordon before first light.  It often involves movement over a distance of 10 to 40 km by road and foot, generally in combination, to maintain an element of surprise or due to inaccessibility of the target area. Search, interrogation, follow up operations and such other related events would follow and would continue for anything up to five days. Operations spring up at any time of the day or night based on information and these cannot be postponed or pended like a file in an office. How can one, especially a junior officer do away with a Sahayak and still devote all his time in service interests? 

Some realities and some questions

Army does not give any time to an officer to help his family in their daily errands even in a so called peace station to which an army unit returns after a busy tenure of two to three years in an operational or field station. Immediately after the return of an army unit to a peace station they are put through new operational area familiarization, operational alerts, mobilization practices, field firing and battle inoculations which involves move out of the peace station location. The duration of such outings is not less than five to six months initially and three to four months in subsequent training years. Training and employment for Internal Security duties and aid to Civil Authorities are an addition. Cantonments do not have facilities like normal cities and are well away from towns. Infantry units usually have five to seven officers at any one time after taking into account those on leave, formation duties, courses and other temporary duties which is just 30 % of its authorized strength. Officers by virtue of their position need to participate in all activities besides being able to coordinate and conduct most of the events.

It is a matter for all of us to put our heads together and ask a few questions. Why do we not have sufficient number of officers to cater for the work load in a unit? Shall we have 10 AM to 5 PM and five day a week routine in the army too, like in civil services? Shall we cut down on all the training and administrative events in an army unit? Shall we have a single dress for all occasions? Is there a need for a sub unit commander to train his sub unit or can it train itself for the requirement? Under such working conditions and circumstances, is Sahayak a perk or a favor to the junior leaders?
Should there not be a limit on the working hours like for the workers under the labor Laws? If at all suicide or fratricide are taking place in the army, it is not because of the Sahayak issue but it is a direct result of endless working hours without consideration for one’s personal space and time with the family. Give up Sahayaks and you will end up with fratricides amongst officers or a casual attitude developing in them. A study constituted for the purpose would establish the fact.

Replacing Sahayaks a gimmick? 

A Sahayak is selected from the sub unit to which an officer belongs and is changed at regular intervals. He is usually a volunteer, a marksman and an excellent grader in BPET and PPT. He is a fighting soldier and he has a specific military role as an orderly in war. If the system of Sahayak is abolished, we will still need some other soldier to perform his duties in war. In a combat unit, one cannot have SAs and NCAs paid differently. Are we trying to save on money in an environment where people are forsaking personal and family interests for the sake of the service? As the word Sahayak implies, he is a soldier, meant to assist an officer in discharging his duties, so that his personnel requirements do not impinge on his time and efforts in discharging his duties. He is not a part of the perks as is understood by a civilian. Creating SAs and NCAs is nothing more than a gimmick involving additional expenditure to the exchequer.   

Are our political leaders aware of ground realities?

To be fair to the Army officers, I would recommend that the honorable Defence Minister and some of his colleagues with a good number of bureaucrats and eminent civilians spend a month with an army unit and go through the routine without a Sahayak or any additional facilities so that they understand the working of an army unit, the role of an army officer in running the establishment and the practical implications of doing away with the institution of Sahayak.

A fighting unit is a dynamic and an active establishment with over 800 all ranks from different parts of the country with different culture, languages and food habits. An officer has to be a visible and an omnipotent live wire if the establishment is to be a vibrant one and work in harmony. One cannot have a Government Office environment or a trade union way of life. Training and physical fitness routine including physical and mental toughening process needs to go on if the unit is to stand up and fight, in the face of an enemy and live fire. These requirements need a support system, of which the “Sahayak” is a part. This is especially so in the case of junior officers. One needs to realize that there is a limit to ones physical capabilities, human endurance and sacrifices. 

If the institution of a Sahayak is to be abolished, it cannot be done without compromises and if that is acceptable and is in national interest, the Defence Minister may well go ahead with this proposal. 

1 comment:

  1. Sir,
    I fully agree with you on need of. Sahayak for Combat Arms Officer. It is the other lot who are misusing the sahayak. Why should the jaw an be walking the dog, or help in kitchen or ferry kids for swimming/tuition/outing?