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SOURCE: The Print

The Union Ministry of Defence scheme aiming to hire 400 retired military doctors for a year to aid the country’s Covid fight has received a lukewarm response so far, with the Directorate General of the Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) receiving only around 100 applications in roughly two weeks of the process being set in motion.

“We received somewhere between 90 and 100 applications until Saturday last week,” a source in the government confirmed to ThePrint. The tri-service AFMS is responsible for the overall medical policy of the armed forces. Earlier this month, the DGAFMS mooted a proposal to hire around 400 retired officers on contract basis to help India battle the second wave.

The defence ministry subsequently issued an order dated 8 May, instructing the DGAFMS to hire former members of the Army Medical Corps and Short-Service Commission released between 2017 and 2021. According to the ministry order, they were to be hired under the ‘Tour of Duty’ scheme for a period of 11 months.

Talking to ThePrint, defence officers admitted they were expecting a stronger response and many more applications. One officer said all of them should have been deployed on the field by now, given the nature of the emergency.

The officers, however, said recruitment will continue for around four more months and they are hopeful there will be more applicants.

“Even as cases are falling, the recruitment will continue so as to ensure there is an adequate number of doctors available in the instance of a third wave of the pandemic,” the source quoted above said.

Why the ‘reluctance’

Retired medical veterans of the armed forces say one possible reason for the low response could be that the offer was not lucrative enough for retired military doctors to leave their current assignments. 

“Every retired doctor is engaged in some assignment or the other. The offer had to be attractive for them to leave their current assignments and join the government for a contract of just 11 months,” said a former Army doctor, who did not wish to be named.

The terms and conditions of the government scheme say the doctors hired under it will get a fixed monthly lump sum, equivalent to the salary drawn at the time of retirement, minus the pension. The doctors will also be entitled to specialist pay wherever applicable, but no other allowances.

Brig (Dr) Arvind Kumar Tyagi (Retd), an oncosurgeon who serves as director (oncology) at the Yashoda Cancer Institute in Ghaziabad, said it is important to note that a doctor never retires. 

“Even after his retirement from the Army, he would have joined another employer. And it is unlikely that he would leave his current job to do something that he is anyway doing.”

He added: “We all have been providing consultation and treating people during the pandemic and they include not just military veterans, but also civilians. We are there to pitch in. I’m providing free consultation to about 200 people and can continue doing so without a separate banner or salary.”  

To strengthen the military’s contribution in tackling Covid, the defence ministry last month sanctioned the invoking of Schedule 8.1 of the Delegation of Financial Powers to Defence Services (DFPDS-2016), which deals with the grant of emergency financial powers to the AFMS upto 30 September 2021.

Schedule 8.1 of DFPDS-2016 provides for full financial powers to the DGAFMS for procurement of medical items, materials and stores.

The AFMS has deployed additional doctors, including specialists and super specialists, and paramedics at several hospitals, and SSC doctors of the AFMS have been granted extension until 31 December.

Asked why the defence ministry didn’t call reservists, a senior defence officer said the scheme is for those retired military doctors who want to volunteer to join the government in Covid-relief efforts. Calling back reservists would have made participation compulsory for all military doctors who retired in a certain time period.

“Also, the financial implications of calling back reservists would be much higher. Under the current scheme, doctors volunteering would be on a certain pay without insurance and other privileges,” the officer said.