National Defence Academy: Training hit at defence institutes, passing out and new inductions likely to be delayed

NEW DELHI: The graduation of the current batch of students and the induction of new trainees at the defence forces’ training institutes is likely to be delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak and the nationwide lockdown due to it. Training at these institutes has also been severely affected due to the pandemic.

Due to the lockdown that has prevented the entry of some trainers at the institutes and the restrictions that are likely to remain even after it is lifted, coupled with the final phases of the training that are still left to be completed, the passing out parade of the current batch of students could get delayed. The travel restrictions due to the lockdown has also prevented fresh trainees from reaching their institutes. For example, the new batch of trainees at the army’s Officers Training Academy (OTA) Chennai and OTA Gaya for short-service commissioned officers and those coming through the “technical entry” as engineers was to report on March 30, but could not due to the lockdown. There is likely to be deliberations on whether these institutes should have a compressed training schedule for the new batch or continue for the scheduled full duration. Officials, on the condition of anonymity, also said that selection boards of potential candidates for most institutes such as the army’s Indian Military Academy (IMA) and the tri-services National Defence Academy (NDA) are not taking place currently. This means that new batches of trainees to these institutes, who are to join in July, could be delayed.

The Delhi-based Naval Headquarters is deliberating on working out fresh schedules for selections of officers and sailors. Some fresh trainees, who could not join the navy for their initial training, would be joining the next batch when travel restrictions are lifted.

Training institutes are hopeful that they can catch up with the lost training schedule, because the passing out parade or graduation of most of them is next month. However, with indications of the Centre likely to extend the lockdown and the rising number of COVID-19 cases, it remains to be seen if the institutes are able to do this on time.

Some of the affected training institutes are the tri-services National Defence Academy (NDA), the army’s Indian Military Academy (IMA), OTA Chennai and OTA Gaya, and the navy’s Indian Naval Academy (INA) for officers and INS Chilka for sailors. All recruitment rallies for army jawans have also been delayed. This recruitment is done to make up for the numbers who are retiring. But, as recruitment has been delayed, this could lead to a deficiency in strength for some time.

Outdoor activities, including mass physical training, exercises and mandatory specialised camps, have been stopped at these institutes. However, physical training is being conducted in some institutes in small batches, while maintaining social distancing norms. For example, at the naval institutes certain physical activities for officers, sailors and special forces and diving personnel are happening. Theoretical classes with several students are largely not being conducted for a fear of preventing a contagion. The trainees are being made to do self-study in their rooms with tests and quizzes being given to them, while only non-confidential research material is being given to them on their tablets and computers.

At the NDA, officials said that the training is being done in “bits and pieces”. Every squadron of cadets has been broken up to maintain social distancing. There is no intermingling between squadrons and there are different timings for their activities. For example, if a squadron is headed for breakfast, another one is doing physical exercises in small groups. Every cadet is using a computer to study in his room and attending classes via videoconference. The academy is also working on a skeleton staff. “Although the PoP (passing out parade) is in May, it could get affected. The effect on it and the next batches will have to be seen,” an official said.

Officials said that due to the coronavirus outbreak, the annual training programme at the INA has been “severely affected”. “As COVID precautions involve physical distancing and avoid mass gathering, this has led to stopping and curtailing many activities like classroom instructions, equipment training, PT, drill and swimming. So in all training has been seriously affected. We are therefore assessing on a weekly basis the impact keeping all concerned informed and working out simultaneously the corrective actions and solutions that can be implemented to make up for the lost time,” an official said.

Here too, self study is being carried out by cadets. Online studies involving research and dissertations are happening. Classes have been divided into small batches with different trainers, who also live in the same campus. “The passing out of courses from INA and Chilka is likely to be affected. The lockdown has adversely affected the training schedule as some instructors are living off the base. Mass PT, swimming and drill practice has stopped. Hence, we have to catch on lost training time. Moreover, there are bound to be travel restrictions even as lockdown is lifted. Hence, passing out schedules and reporting of the next batch is going to get affected,” an official said.

The official said that there is scope for catching up. “In case the situation stabilises, then we would be able to recover quickly as the POP at INA is at the end of May and POP at Chilka is in early July,” he said.

Even IMA training is suffering with important activities like jungle and mountain warfare and “Camp Chindit”– the culmination of all training before commissioning– could also be affected. This is likely to delay the passing out parade of the cadets in June, officials said.

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