The hallowed National Defence Academy (NDA) is under spotlight, but for all the wrong reasons. Several veterans, including former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash, have joined the chorus demanding reforms in the prestigious institute after a former Army commander's scathing critique highlighting falling standards, high drop-out rates and ragging. Others, however, found the cradle of Indian armed forces continues to maintain high standards for the last seven decades.
IANS spoke to a host of veterans from the three forces who were equivocal that the academy needs a restructuring in order to produce high quality soldiers.
Former Chief of Indian Navy, Admiral Arun Prakash (Retired), who was also Commandant of the NDA from 1997 to 1999, said the academy suffers from several ailments from lack of funding to being understaffed.
"Selection of civilian teachers at the academy is not up to the mark. Many of those selected are embroiled in various kinds of court cases. There is no proper selection procedure for the Commandant. The Commandant is chosen at random from the three forces. Generally, the officer who can be spared from duty is sent by the respective force to the academy. Commandants also need to have a fixed tenure of at least two to three years at the academy. However, mostly those senior officers who are on the verge of retirement and who have no more than a few months of service left are chosen as commandants," said admiral Arun Prakash.
There have been complaints of ragging and bullying from the academy in recent years. As per reports, dropout rates from the academy range between 16 and 20 per cent of average intake every year.
"Ragging and physical punishment are being dealt with very sternly nowadays in civilian universities and colleges. The same standards should be applied to the NDA as well. The state of affairs at the academy needs the personal attention of the Chief of Staffs Committee," said the former Navy Chief.
The NDA is affiliated to the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi that designs its course curriculum.
Cadets who join the academy by successfully clearing an entrance examination after Class 12 undergo a three-year training period at the end of which they are either awarded a BA or a BSc degree.
Lieutenant General Deependra Singh Hooda (Retired), former GoC-in-C of the Northern Command and an alumnus of the NDA from 1973 to 1975, said over a period of time the focus areas of teaching at the academy needs to be reviewed.
"Based on the needs of modern times, there should be a change in syllabus. Technical and military education should be focused upon. There is nothing basically wrong with the academy. Training is tough and life at the academy is rigorous. This prepares an average cadet for the army life which is not easy. I was barely 16 years old when I entered the academy and it did just fine to groom a kid into a well-rounded personality," said Hooda.
Former faculty members at the NDA said the quality of leadership produced at the academy over the past 20 years has been on the decline.
According to Colonel Vinay Dalvi (Retired), who served as physical training and sports officer at the NDA from 2001 to 2005, selection and training of cadets need to be integrated.
"In the past 72 years, there has been no review in the quality of induction process. There is no connection between selection and training. There needs to be more objectivity in the selection process and the trainer should be a part of it," said Dalvi.
But Lt. Gen. Ata Hasnain (retd.), a well-known military expert, said that critique of an institution such as NDA should be done after a detailed visit to examine the areas of its core claims in terms of continued maintenance of high quality of potential officers.
"I have not heard of a complaint from a CO (Commanding Officer) about the quality of young officers of the ex- NDA variety posted to units," said General Hasnain, adding that as the Military Secretary of the Indian Army six years ago, it was his responsibility to post young officers on commissioning and he had a huge demand from COs to post ex-NDA officers to their unit.
He also debunked views that training had not kept pace with the modern times. The General said he had found the needs at the frontlines being taught including the value system. "By instinct NDA products like to shirk work more than the minimum but never do they shirk responsibility, especially towards their men," he said.