Without going to war, India loses around 1,600 military personnel every year. And the single biggest killers are road accidents and suicides, much more than counterinsurgency operations or firing duels with Pakistan along the Line of Control in Kashmir.
Latest figures collated by TOI show that road accidents claim the lives of over 350 soldiers, sailors and airmen every year, while another 120 personnel take the extreme step of committing suicide. Other big causes are training accidents and various health reasons.
India does have the dubious distinction of recording the highest number of road deaths in the world, as also one of the highest suicide rates, but the same being reflected in the highly-disciplined and trained environs of the armed forces is alarming for many.
The army, navy and Indian Air Force (IAF) have lost over 6,500 personnel since 2014. The highest toll, of course, is found in the 1.17-million-stromg Indian Army, which dwarfs the IAF and navy in terms of sheer manpower.
“Physical casualties” are more than 12 times the number of “battle casualties” in the army. If the force recorded 112 fatal battle casualties in border skirmishes, shelling, counterinsurgency operations and operational accidents in “notified areas” last year, it lost over 1,480 soldiers due to physical casualties.
This year, the battle casualties in army have just about crossed 80 till now, while the physical casualties have already touched 1,060.
Sources say Army Chief General Bipin Rawat last month expressed concern about his force losing “nearly two battalions [each battalion has 700-800 soldiers]worth of personnel every year” due to physical casualties. “He has stressed the urgent need to address this issue… new measures are being put in place, while the older ones are being fine-tuned,” said an officer.
Road accidents remain a big worry. A series of directives have been issued for proper training of drivers, regular monitoring and medical fitness tests, and strict punishing of errant or negligent behaviour.
Stress-related deaths like suicides and fratricide [to kill a fellow soldier or superior]also take a huge toll. Over 330 soldiers, including nine officers and 19 junior commissioned officers, have committed suicide since 2014. There have also been a dozen cases of fratricide in the timeframe.
Suicide cases in the armed forces have showed no signs of reducing despite all the so-called measures being undertaken to reduce stress among soldiers, airmen and sailors deployed in far-flung areas away from their families, as reported earlier.