New Delhi, March 14 (IANS) Concerned over a spurt in suicides in the armed forces - 21 this year alone - the defence ministry has taken a series of counter measures including counselling and yoga classes to help soldiers cope with stress, parliament was informed Wednesday.
"Training capsules on relaxation exercises including yoga and meditation have been introduced," even as officers at various levels had been asked to identify and counsel soldiers "who are at higher risk of combat stress", Defence Minister A.K. Antony said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha.
This apart, religious teachers, junior commissioned officers (JCOs) of the Army Education Corps (AEC) and regimental medical officers have been identified as psychological health mentors, trained in psychiatry and have been posted at various units, he added.
Antony said that 50 JCOs of the Army Medical Corps (AMC) have been trained as counsellors and posted to the northern and eastern commands where troops are engaged in counter-insurgency operations.
In view of this, there was no proposal to engage NGOs for stress management as the armed forces "have enough infrastructure and expertise to handle the problem", the minister maintained.
The armed forces witnessed a staggering 146 suicides in 2006, with 120 in the army, 24 in the air force and two in the navy and the coast guard.
There were 120 suicides, including 15 failed attempts in 2005. These included 92 - as also the failed attempts - in the army, 23 in the air force and five in the navy and coast guard.
The year 2004 witnessed 118 suicides - 100 in the army, 13 in the air force and five in the navy and its sister service.
Of the suicides this year till March 5, 16 occurred in the army, four in the air force and one in the navy.
Detailing the other steps taken, Antony said that rotation of units and individuals had been ordered to minimise exposure to stress, while leave rules had been liberalised to permit the splitting of causal and annual leave.
"Improved accessibility of leaders and frequent interaction of junior leaders with soldiers" would ensure better man management and prompt attendance of grievances at the unit level, the minister added.
Besides, all chief ministers had been requested to make the civil administration more responsive to the problems of soldiers and their families, while steps were being initiated to strengthen the state- and district- level soldier's welfare boards.
This would ensure the boards "take the necessary follow up action on the grievances of soldiers in their home towns and villages", Antony stated.