Punjab was once known as the ‘Sword Arm’ of the forces, but migration and money is keeping its youth away from the army, reports BRIJESH PANDEY THESE DAYS, it pays to be an officer in the Indian armed forces, especially if you are from Punjab. In a scheme to encourage more youth from the state to join the forces, the Punjab government has announced it will pay Rs 1 lakh a year to every youth from Punjab who gets selected for the officer’s course in the National Defence Academy (NDA), Combined Defence Services (CDS), or the Officer Training Academy (OTA). This amount will be paid till the time they are absorbed by the forces. The move is an attempt to stem a rapid decline in the number of youth joining the army from Punjab. Known as the ‘Sword Arm’ of the nation, Punjab has a rich tradition of supplying the forces with a steady flow of officers — an army career having been the first choice for generations. But, experts believe the charm of joining the forces has hit twin roadblocks — the lure of emigration, and rampant alcohol and drug abuse. “Prices of land have gone up and there is a free flow of money in Punjab. Easy access to money has led to alcohol and drug abuse. We hope that our financial encouragement plus the good salaries that the army promises, will attract more youth again from Punjab,” says Lt Col (retd) Parminder Singh Bajwa, Deputy Director, Department of Sainik Welfare. “Alcohol and drugs contribute significantly to the decline in youth joining the army,” says retired Brigadier SK Chatterjee. “People are prosperous nowadays — and doing drugs is also linked to this prosperity.” Statistics reveal why the Punjab government is taking the cash incentive route. Between 1990 and 2000, at least 40 candidates from Punjab joined the NDA, CDS and OTA every year as officers. But, this trend saw an alarming 60 percent decline in the next decade, with only 10-15 candidates joining the forces as officers on an average between 2000 and 2009. The other major roadblock is the desire to emigrate, fuelled by the quick money that landowners are making due to the spiralling price of land. “Earlier, if you wanted to be respected in the village, at least one person of your family had to be in the army. But with land prices on fire and a heavy inflow of money — these people have a lot of options,” says Chatterjee. “Youth in Punjab have access to plenty of money these days. They want to explore the world, and now they have several opportunities. Therefore, the armed forces come really low down the ladder for them. This is a big reason why we have less people from Punjab joining the army,” says Major General (retd) Afsar Kareem. According to sources, the Punjab government is also planning to start new training facilities in Fatehgarh Sahib and Amritsar. Not only this, a significant hike in the annuity paid to Punjab’s gallantry award winners is also on the anvil. So, will this cash incentive help? Experts believe we will have to wait a while to see if the Rs 1 lakh incentive works out. Nevertheless, it is heartening to note that the Punjab government is doing its bit to make the armed forces the first preference of the youth of the state again.