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Middle-rung Army officers are actually under more stress and strain than the troops under their command in insurgency and terrorism-hit areas, says a study conducted by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR).

The study on “Psycho-social aspects of optimising efficiency of security forces to combat insurgency”, conducted from 2000 to 2005 in the North-East, comes at a time when the 1.13-million strong Army is reeling under the combined onslaught of suicides and “fragging” in its ranks. Stress-related deaths now claim well over 100 soldiers every year. In the latest such incident, a middle-rung officer, Lt-Colonel Pankaj Jha, committed suicide in Mahore area of Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur district on December 1. Incidentally, the Army also faces a severe shortage of middle-rung officers like senior Captains, Majors and Lt-Colonels, the ‘‘cutting-edge’’ officers who actually lead troops during counter-insurgency operations.

While there is no shortage of officers in the ranks of Colonel and above, the Army is grappling with a staggering shortage of around 11,300 officers in the crucial ranks of Lt-Cols and below. “Obviously, the serving middle-rung officers have tremendous workload thrust on them due to the prevailing shortage. As company commanders, they are directly responsible for counter-insurgency operations,” said a senior officer. Giving details of the study in Lok Sabha on Thursday, defence minister A K Antony said there were three main operational “stressors” responsible for most of the psychological problems in the Army: an uncertain environment, fear of torture and domestic stresses.
“Middle-rank officers, as compared to jawans and JCOs (junior commissioned officers), were found to be more vulnerable and stressed out,” said Antony. The study also found “mental disorders” in the form of post-traumatic stress disorders in “traumatised as well as non-traumatised troops”, which form the basis for “various somatic symptoms”.

The study underlined the need to “inoculate and orient” officers by undertaking combat stress management training programmes, apart from ‘‘immediate therapeutic intervention’’ during post-traumatic stress disorders jointly by the unit leaders and professional psychologists.

The Army, on its apart, says it is now conducting stress management programmes, counselling and welfare activities to “rejuvenate” jawans deployed in forward areas and counter-terrorism operations on a rotational basis. This “proactive approach” of better man-management techniques and prompt redressal of grievances also includes a more “liberalised” leave policy for jawans in order to allow them to attend to their domestic problems.

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