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Explained | Recruitment, salaries, perks, and pensions in the Indian armed forces

The defence sector, the second-biggest employer in the country after the Indian Railways, has millions of applicants every year. A ballooning pension bill has put a check on hiring, and therein lies the story of Agnipath.

June 21, 2022 / 11:20 AM IST
The Indian Army

The Indian Army

With a strength of approximately 1.4 million active military personnel, India has the world’s second-largest military force and the biggest voluntary army on the planet. Modern Indian defence forces can trace their military ancestry back to several millennia, with the maritime history going back as far as 5,000 years.

In a bid to modernise the armed forces and make them more efficient and also better utilise the defence budget, the government last week introduced a new plan for recruiting soldiers on a four-year basis, called the Agnipath scheme.

There have been widespread protests in several states against the new scheme and criticism has been centred around the short tenure for the new recruits. How does this new scheme vary when compared with the existing recruitment process?

Moneycontrol looks at the whole gamut of recruitment, the number of men and women hired every year, and the salary, perks and pensions they earn.

What are the various commissions in the Indian defence forces? How are personnel hired?


Permanent Commissions (for men)

National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, Pune

Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun (non-technical)

Technical Graduate Course (TGC) at IMA, Dehradun

University Entry Scheme (UES) at IMA, Dehradun

Technical Graduate Course (TGC) (Army Education Corps) at IMA, Dehradun

10+2 Technical Entry Scheme (TES)

Short Service Commission (Men and Women), Chennai

Short Service Commission (SSC) (non-technical)

Short Service Commission NCC (SSC) Special/Entry;

Short Service Commission (SSC) Technical

Short Service Commission (Judge Advocate General) (SSC)

Short Service Commission (SSC) Remount Veterinary Corps, New Delhi

Military Nursing Service (Women)

How do candidates apply for permanent commission?

A Permanent Commission (PC) is a career in the Army till retirement. For a PC, a candidate needs to join the National Defence Academy (NDA) or the Indian Military Academy (IMA).

Candidates apply for NDA while in Class X11 or after passing Class X11 -- usually between March and July, and October and December, every year. Advertisements appear in Employment News, Rozagar Samachar and the UPSC website.

Successful candidates undergo a three-year course at NDA before moving for a one-year training at the IMA.

For the IMA, candidates apply online as direct entrants. The advertisements and application route are the same as NDA. If all criteria are met, on selection, candidates will attend the IMA for 18 months.

Candidates can apply for TGC in the final year of their BE/B.Tech degree, or after graduation. This is a non-UPSC entry which does not entail an entrance exam or application via the Indian Army’s recruitment website using the Common Application Form (CAF), advertisements for which come out at the same time as for IMA and NDA.

For UESunmarried male candidates can apply in their pre-final year of engineering degree. Again, with no entrance tests, applications are received using the CAF.

For Short Service Commission (SSC) categories, the Common Application Tests are the route. Under the SSC, the army allows  a 10-year service, with an option of a 4-year extension.

SSC entrants are not entitled to pension. To be in the pension zone, a person has to undergo at least 20 years of service, something that SSC personnel cannot. He or she has the chance to extend their duties to 14 years, but even that falls short.

Interestingly, the salary and allowances for both PC and SSC are the same. There is a significant difference only with regard to pension and medical perks.

However, SSC personnel are entitled to Canteen Store Department (CSD) facilities. Ex-servicemen and their families and ex-defence personnel with minimum 5 years of service are entitled to CSD and canteen facilities, says Kendriya Sainik Board Secretariat, a wing of the MoD.

How many years can you serve in the military?

There are several options. A candidate can join the army and serve as a Commissioned Officer for 10 years. At the end of this period, he has two choices: either a PC or he can opt out.

Those not getting a PC have another alternative -- a four-year extension.

Service Pension is admissible to Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs), a term used for military personnel higher than Havildars and lower than Lieutenants, and other ranks (ORs) who are non-commissioned officers and soldiers, on completion of minimum mandatory qualifying service of 15 years.

Indian Army ranks can be classified into three categories.

Commissioned Officers who are equivalent to All India Services & Group A Service officers; Junior Commissioned Officers who are equivalent to Group B gazetted officers and ORs.

What is the age of retirement in the army?

For a Lt Gen or Major General, it is 60 years. For a Brigadier or equivalent, 59; Lt Col and below, 58 years.

How many people join the defence services every year?

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) does not provide regular updates on the number of personnel on its roll in a systematic manner. But commentators agree that India's army is also one of the country's top employers -- with millions of people applying annually.

Every year, some 60,000 personnel retire, and the army holds up to 100 fresh ‘hiring rallies’ to replace them. But the hiring has been suspended for the past couple of years. Officials attribute it to the pandemic, but experts say the force was already stretched on resources and struggling to modernise. The Agnipath is an outcome of all these factors.

As regards uniformed personnel, only sporadic details are available from various reports of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, which enquires about the status of manpower in the armed forces and some other defence establishments.

As of 2019, the strength of uniformed personnel in the three services totals 14,38,717 against a sanctioned strength of 15,15,878, representing a shortage of 5 percent.

Of the total number of uniformed personnel, the army accounts for about 85 percent, distantly followed by the Air Force with 10 percent and the Navy with 5 percent. Of this, the officer cadre is a miniscule 5 percent.

It is likely that this number does not include several non-combatant arms like the Army Medical Corps, Army Dental Corps, Military Nursing Service, and a few others.

What about salaries in the defence sector?

For those seeking a fat pay packet, a corporate job is a better bet. According to one reliable estimate, a typical defence salary is calculated at Rs 8,83,894 per year. They can range from Rs 4,55,133 – Rs 36,86,432 per year. This estimate is based upon 12 government of India defence salary report(s) provided by employees or estimates based upon statistical methods.

When factoring in bonuses and additional compensation, an employee can expect to make an average total pay of ₹8,83,894 per year.


What are the perks the defence services offer?

Crucially, however, it is the perks that matter. It is commonly believed that armed personnel get accommodation free of cost. In fact, quarters are subsidised. Their size depends on the rank and the place of posting. Usually, a jawan gets 1BHK, while a JCO gets 2/3BHK. Officers in the rank of Major/Lt Col and Colonel get 3/4/5 BHK houses. They may not be the epitome of luxury but are extremely spacious. Officers in the rank of Brigadier are usually allotted an independent bungalow.

Living in a cantonment area is a pleasure. It is undoubtedly the cleanest and greenest place in any city. It is well equipped with playgrounds, basketball courts, tennis courts, football fields, gym, wet canteen, walking plaza, cinema theatre and the rest.

What about medical facilities and schooling for children?

Medical facility is free for all armed personnel, either serving or retired, along with their dependents. Facilities such as primary medical healthcare, specialist medical care and super specialist medical care are provided to armed forces personnel, including ex-servicemen.

The Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) is a flagship Scheme of the MoD, which aims to provide quality healthcare for ex-servicemen, pensioners and their dependents.

Schooling for army children is hardly a bother as Army Public Schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas are situated in every city. Highly subsidised school bus facility is provided to the personnel's children. The fee structure is comparatively low while the standard of education is excellent, best reflected in all-India examination results.

What is the famed army canteen?

All groceries are available to armed personnel at subsidised rates, either serving or retired. To avail this facility, smart cards are issued to the beneficiaries and their dependents. High quality liquor is made available to defence personnel at much lower costs.

At CSD, products, including liquor, can be purchased at subsidised rates by serving and retired military personnel.

In addition, there is ration for serving personnel, which includes essential items like milk, egg, pulses, and butter, among others. Incidentally, this ration was restored in peace-time areas in 2019 after the government had withdrawn the facility in 2017, post implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission.

What about professional enhancement?

Defence forces offer very transparent avenues for professional enhancement. There are deputations in various scientific institutions in the country, including DRDO, DGQA, LRDE, BEL, ITI and a host of others. In addition, there are foreign assignments in the UN, and it is virtually mandatory now to have defence attaches in Indian embassies/missions the world over.


How serious is the subject of defence pensions?

Defence pension – a ticklish issue, if there ever was one – lies at the heart of the Agnipath plan. The ever-burgeoning pension bill has ballooned, thanks to the One-Rank-One-Pension (OROP) scheme, which came into effect on July 1, 2014.

It is a perpetually growing liability: in 2015-16, before the OROP was introduced, defence pension expenditure stood at Rs 54,000 crore. By FY2020-21, it had more than doubled to Rs 1,33,825 crore.

According to an Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) assessment, “the entire increase in the pension’s share (from 2011-12 to 2020-21) has come at the cost of the capital procurement, which together with stores (or the CSD), has dwindled by 11 percentage points from 36 percent in 2011-12 to 25 percent in 2020-21. In other words, the fast rise in pension expenditure has a significant crowding-out effect on stores and modernisation, two major components that determine a nation’s war-fighting ability.”

Nonetheless, it does suggest that superannuated defence personnel have been beneficiaries of sound pension – at least for now.

Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.
first published: Jun 21, 2022 11:20 am
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