On Tuesday, The Government of India announced its new defence recruiting policy, the Agnipath Scheme. The scheme is applicable across Airforce, Navy and Army. The Cabinet Committee on security has cleared the new reform, which will come into effect immediately.
The soldiers recruited under this scheme will be known as ‘Agniveers’.
While the government claims Agnipath scheme to be beneficial for aspirants, the aspirants are protesting against the nature of the new recruitment reform. Moreover, the new reform is raising concerns among human rights defenders, journalists, defence experts and opposition. The key questions against the new scheme remain unanswered. To understand what are these questions, we need to know the details of the scheme, its advantages and disadvantages, and what the experts are saying on the matter.
Exploring ‘Agnipath’ scheme
According to the government announcement, the new scheme will recruit around 45,000-50,000 aspirants every year for a period of four years. After the end of their four years tenure, only 25% of the ‘Agniveers’ will be given the permanent commission for the next 15 years.
The recruitment will be done twice a year through rallies. The standard of recruitment will remain the same. Individuals between the age of 17.5 years and 21 years will be eligible to apply for the scheme.
After selection, the aspirants will be trained for six months and deployed for the next 3.5 years. During the entire period, they’ll get a starting salary of Rs 30,000, which will increase to Rs 40,000 by the end of their four-year tenure. However, 30% of the Agniveers’ salary will be cut under the ‘Seva Nidhi Programme’, and the government will contribute an equal amount every month. The amount cut will earn interest, and at the end of the four years tenure, the Agniveers will get a tax-free lump sum amount of Rs 11.71 lakhs.
The Agniveers will also get life insurance for four years of Rs 48 lakhs. In case of death, the government will pay over Rs 1 crore. For those re-selected 25%, their four-year Agnipath tenure will not be counted for retirement benefits.
The recruitment under the Agnipath scheme will begin within 90 days.
Advantages of Agnipath Scheme
The government claims, that the Agnipath scheme will ultimately reduce the defence pension bill, which was the government’s concern for many years. Furthermore, it will provide skills and employability to the Indian youth.
While announcing the scheme, Defence Minister – Rajnath Singh stated, “efforts are being made that the profile of the Armed Forces should be as youthful as the wider Indian population.”
Rajnath Singh also said, “This will also lead to the availability of a higher-skilled workforce to the economy which will be helpful in productivity gain and overall GDP growth.”
On Twitter, the Defence Minister tweeted, “The ‘Agnipath’ scheme approved by the CCS chaired by Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi is a truly transformative reform which will enhance the combat potential of the Armed Forces, with younger profile and technologically adept soldiers.”
He further said, “The Infusion of disciplined, motivated and skilled Agniveers back into society after military service, would be a great asset for the Nation. A win-win proposition for India!”
Lt Gen Anil Puri – additional secretary, Department of Military Affairs, said the scheme will create “future-ready” soldiers.
He further said that government will rehabilitate Agniveers who will leave after four years. The government will also provide skill certificates and bridge courses.
Vice chief of army staff – Lt Gen BS Raju, today told ANI, “Impact of #Agnipath would be in terms of giving opportunity for Indian Army to get younger, fitter & probably more tech-savvy.”
Concerns regarding Agnipath
As the government highlights the benefits of this scheme, the concerns remain unanswered.
What will the Agniveers do after four years? Why the government is trying to compromise with the army’s professionalism? How will the government rehabilitate the Agniveers who will be left behind their age? Is it the job of the defence forces to provide employability to the Indian youth? Divergence of the military to private militias? Ultimately, is Agnipath scheme a façade to militarize Indian youth over time?
The above questions are currently the major concerns against the recruitment reform.
Along the same lines, Gurdeep Singh Sappal – National spokesperson of INC, highlighted the horrors of partition and the role of retired battle-hardened British Raj soldiers.
Mr Sappal highlighted that during the partition, around 1-2 million people died during the partition, and lakhs were killed in riots. He expressed how could common people kill lakhs and claimed it is not normal. Then, he suggested the answer lies in war-hardened retired soldiers of the British Raj.
Mr Sappal tweeted, “1947, India’s partition saw worst communal riots. Varying records say 1-2 million people died, lakhs killed in riots. Always wondered that how could common people kill in lakhs! It’s not normal. Does the answer lie in war-hardened soldiers retired from British Indian Army?”
“British Indian Army had nearly 2.5 million soldiers after the war, of which it retired 2 million. These were young men, war-hardened, skilled in using weapons, who had lived through the worst. They were back in villages in 1947. Did it contribute to high number of killings?”
He nextly said, “Having a large number of army trained but unemployed youth, in early 20’s is never a comforting thought. Has the GoI thought through the repercussions and social impact of Agniveer scheme? Has any historical, sociological data been studied before embarking upon this scheme?”
Meanwhile, JNU Professor Jacob argued against the government’s claim that the scheme will provide employability. He expressed India doesn’t need more men who are less trained but technologically sophisticated and better equipped, leaner military.
Professor Jacob tweeted, “Agnipath is indicative of a deeper problem in our thinking about the defense of India. More men, especially less trained ones, will not help India win future wars. A technologically sophisticated, better equipped leaner military is what India needs.”
He further added, “The job of the Indian military is to defend India, not to generate employment.”
Congress Minister from Chattisgarh, TS Singhdeo also expressed concern about the new Agnipath scheme.
He told ANI, “Defence services & national security are being toyed with. Experts, who were chiefs of defence forces, opine that it takes at least 8 yrs to prepare youth for deployment on borders. What do they want to gain with 4 yrs of training?”
Singhdeo also added, “If you want to give jobs, do it elsewhere. What kind of job is this where you’ll keep them for 4 yrs & then only 25% of them would be allowed to go ahead? This is aimless. Instead of providing them permanent options for jobs, defence services are being toyed with.”
Political analyst and journalist Aditya Menon expressed his concerns on Twitter that the Agnipath scheme aims to “militarize Indian society”.
He tweeted, “Agniveer scheme seems aimed at militarising society, even if it means compromising on the professionalism of the forces. Another strange plan.”
Menon further added, “Not enough is being said on harmful effects of Agniveer. Armed forces will be stuck with a bunch of semi-trained personnel not ready for battle. And after service, country will be stuck with unemployed youth trained in arms. There was no need for any arrangement beyond SSC.”
“But what does army gain out of it? The resources and time invested in training Agniveers could have gone in recruitment and training of full time soldiers. Just to save pension and to have a cohort of semi-military trained manpower, professionalism of forces is being compromised,” Menon tweeted.
Menon retweeted a photo of what seems to be a letter written by the Central Association of Private Security Industry (CAPSI) to the Prime Minister – Narender Modi.
In the letter, the CAPSI official congratulated the Prime Minister on introducing the Agnipath scheme. Soon the letter turns to complete business and proposes a partnership between the government and CAPSI. The letter claims to give jobs in private security agencies to Agniveers whose four-year tenure has concluded.
Meanwhile, candidates preparing to join the Indian army and other defence forces have started demonstrations in various parts of the country. The aspirants feel disappointed over newly announced reforms. The students are protesting against the Agnipath scheme.
In Bihar’s Buxar and Muzaffarpur, students jammed railway tracks. A large number of aspirants further blocked the national highway, burnt tyres and raised slogans against the scheme.