New Delhi: In a move that will drastically change the recruitment procedure for the Indian military, the government Tuesday announced the Agnipath scheme, which will take in youth between 17-and-a-half years of age to those aged twenty-one, as soldiers for a period of four years.
Enrolment under this scheme, announced by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the three service chiefs Tuesday, will be all-India and all-class, and will form a distinct rank in the armed forces, besides having distinctive insignia, sources in the defence and security establishment said.
The scheme was cleared by the cabinet committee on security Tuesday, which is chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Recruitment rallies will commence in 90 days and about 46,000 soldiers will be recruited under the scheme this year.
The scheme seeks to replace the existing recruitment model under which soldiers are recruited as sepoys into specific regiments, based on class patterns.
Sources in the defence and security establishment explained that soldiers under the Agnipath scheme — referred to as Agniveers — will be enrolled for a duration of four years, including the training period, and will get a salary of Rs 30,000 – Rs 40,000 per month, and allowances as applicable.
Those recruited under this scheme will have to meet the medical eligibility conditions as applicable for respective categories/trades within the armed forces.
Sources added that while all Agniveers will be given the option to enrol into the regular cadre after four years, only 25 per cent from each batch will be enrolled in the regular cadre of the armed forces, after their four-year service duration.
Sources explained that Agniveers can be posted to any regiment, unit and establishment and would be entitled to honours and awards under extant guidelines on the subject.
The soldiers recruited under this scheme will also get a post-release ‘Seva Nidhi Package’, of Rs 11.71 lakhs including interest (tax free), besides a non-contributory insurance cover of Rs 48 Lakhs.
The Rs 11.71 lakh will include 30 per cent of salary as contribution to the scheme and an equal amount put in by the government. An additional ex-gratia of Rs 44 lakh will be given in case of death attributable to service, and compensation under existing rules will be given in case of disability.
They will also get an Agniveer Skill Certificate, which will aim to assist them in finding post-release job opportunities.
Agniveers will also have an option of accessing a bank loan of Rs 18.2 lakhs over three years or more, against the Seva Nidhi package.
However, sources made it clear that the Agniveers who leave after four years will not get ex-servicemen status. This means that there shall be no entitlement to gratuity and pension benefits.
The eventual aim of the scheme is to keep the three services younger and agile, while reducing the overall pension burden.
Sources said that essentially, recruitment of soldiers across the world is done in two broad categories — voluntary and conscription-based recruitment.
For example, Russia has a system of conscription-based service for a period of 12 months, Israel for 30 and 22 months — for men and women, respectively, South Korea for 21, 24 and 25 months, respectively, for army, navy and air force respectively, and Brazil for 12 months.
There are certain pseudo, or voluntary, conscription models as well in countries like China and USA, where the service period under this model ranges from two to eight years, with options for active and reservist service, as also conscription specific to certain ranks and specialisation, said sources.
What govt says about benefits of Agnipath scheme
Sources claimed that the Aginpath scheme brings in the best of both the models of conscription and volunteer service for related benefits.
They said that a natural fallout or outcome of the Agnipath scheme would be reduction of stress on the military revenue budget, as also pension bills, which would empower the armed forces to re-channelise these funds for their capital procurements and modernisation programmes.
The sources underlined that the global security environment has been rapidly changing and armed forces across the world have been adapting to their futuristic requirements, by bringing in fresh ideas and schemes to meet the overall national ambitions and dreams in the long run.
Human resource management and modified structures for the Indian armed forces are also an important facet of this larger intent, they said.
The sources said that this scheme would help the forces to have younger, fitter, diverse, more trainable individuals, adaptable to changing dynamics and technology, which would enhance operational effectiveness.
The aim is also to achieve desired youth vs experience ratios, aiming to achieve a ratio of 1:1, sources said.
An official statement by the defence ministry said that the scheme will enhance the “youthful profile” of the armed forces and provide a fresh lease of “josh” and “jazba”, while at the same time bringing about a transformational shift towards a more tech-savvy armed forces, as needed today.
The current average age profile in the army is 32 years, said sources, adding, “It is envisaged that average age profile of Indian armed forces would come down by about 4-5 years by implementation of this scheme”.
They said that the scheme will churn out a large number of Agniveers from all across the country and with the high release rate (75 per cent being released after four years), there will be Agniveers in every village and every corner of the society.
“The young disciplined Agniveers who get released after four years of service will instill the same sense of pride in the next generation. This scheme will mainly provide an overall development of the nation by plugging in the problem of unemployment and will provide a stable economic growth,” sources added.
What naysayers argue
Naysayers within the defence and security establishment argue, however, that the scheme should first undergo a test bed to really see the advantages and disadvantages.
According to them, the scheme will lead to a loss of institutional memory, especially the regiments in the army.
Many are sceptical of this scheme, and wonder whether someone who is getting recruited for four years, and only has 25 per cent chance of being permanent, will follow orders and fight with the same spirit as a regular soldier.
Another concern, according to them, is that 75 per cent of military-trained youth will be back in society without a guaranteed job prospect.
The concerns have been raised by several veterans and serving officers in private.
Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia, former director general of military operations (DGMO) also tweeted, “Death knell for armed forces, ToD not tested, NO pilot project, straight implementation. Will also lead to Militarization of society, nearly 40,000(75%) youth year on year back rejected & dejected without a job, semi trained in arms ex Agniveers. Not a good idea. No one gains.”
Death knell for armed forces, ToD not tested, NO pilot project, straight implementation. Will also lead to Militarization of society, nearly 40,000(75%) youth year on year back rejected & dejected without a job, semi trained in arms ex Agniveers. Not a good idea. No one gains. https://t.co/tmt3qekeup
— Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia Retd (@Ptr6Vb) June 13, 2022
Lt. Gen. P. R. Shankar, former director general, artillery, has also hit out at the scheme in a scathing article, arguing that the tour of duty does not seem to be a good idea and needs to be proceeded with caution.
“However the government seems to be quite determined to push its way through.. Tour of Duty is an exercise being undertaken without adequate staff or capacity, in order to create which, the teeth have to be knocked off. Then the not so well trained tourist will be part of a subunit in which there is a rat race for retention with no bonding or no junior leadership,” Shankar wrote
He added: “This soldier will be expected to man Brahmos/Pinaka/Vajra weapon system which he cannot handle and defend his gun position from marauding Pakistanis or Chinese. In essence, the tour of duty proposal expects a superman from a kindergarten. We might be producing an Abhimanyu but he will not get out of the Chakravyuhu.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)