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A BOLD STEP FORWARD: AN OVERVIEW OF THE AGNIPATH SCHEME

INTRODUCTION

On June 14, 2022, the Government rolled out a defence reform policy called “Agnipath Scheme” which was two years before named as “Tour of Duty”.[1] The intention to bring such reform is admirable as it breaks the stereotype and brings much-needed reforms in the army, navy and air force. However, there are concerns as well for such a short duration of service for the soldier and the society at large.

ABOUT THE NEW SCHEME

The Agnipath Scheme is a new recruitment process to get into the armed forces. They will be called “Agniveers”. It will be for four years and the eligible age group is 17.5-21 years.[2] After four years only 25% of the batch will be retained for the permanent service of 15 years and all others will leave the service with various benefits such as life cover, payout in case of disability attributable to service, payout in case of death attributable to service, bank loans if they want to set up a business and Seva Nidhi package.[3]

This scheme will be for all the personnel below the rank of officers and they will not get a pension as this is one of the major motives behind bringing this new policy i.e. to save the defence budget so as to utilize it in the modernization of the combat weapons. The other motive is to create a much younger armed force.[4]There will be a maximum of 6 months of training and 3.5 years of service and the recruitment will not be based on regiment i.e. on regional and caste basis but on “all India, all class” basis i.e. regardless of caste, religion, or region. [5] The Agniveers will be recruited twice a year through rallies.[6]

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

Benefits

This change which will be brought by the Agnipath Scheme in the recruitment process into the three armed forces is a bold step towards transformation in the existing employment traditions. It will make the armed forces younger as the aim is to bring the average age i.e. 32 years down to 26 years in the next four to five years.[7] The other motivator is to cut down on the pension benefits that is, after the service of four years, they will not get any pension but will be provided with other benefits such as the Seva Nidhi fund and tax exemption on it will act as an add-on in the resume. The amount that they will get after their service is given with the expectation that they will invest this money to become entrepreneurs. The Government has also assured them that they will get priority in the Central Armed Police Forces.[8]

The Agniveers after their service will get a special qualifying certificate and the skills & training that they would have acquired will lead to a better and more disciplined human resource for society.[9] And lastly being part of the army, navy or air force will be counted in the credits for the soldiers to apply for higher education, if they want to pursue it and will be provided with Class 12 equivalent certificate and bridging courses for further studies.[10]One of the key reasons to have a youthful armed force pointed out by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh is that they can be better trained in new technologies.[11]

Challenges

One of the issues is the skills that will be acquired by the soldier in the 6 month training period in comparison to the soldiers recruited in the regular cadre. A lot would depend on it, such as the kind of roles they would serve in, as training, professionalism and experience cannot be compromised for younger armed forces. This short duration of service can also be seen in the Israeli military where they have 30 months and 22 months service periods respectively for men and women and is one of the best militaries in the world.[12] Not only Israel but also the US, UK and France have short-duration contracts.[13] And thus both the factors have to be weighed accordingly.

The second issue is, that the training and skills acquired during the service would determine how they will be absorbed in the economy when there is already a 20% youth unemployment rate in the country.

The third challenge is, not getting any lifelong benefits as it would imply no secure future. This would be a kind of deterrent and it will be known only through time whether it creates any hurdle in employment-seeking opportunities. Until now, a soldier after being recruited in the armed forces would serve for 17 years and after that would get a pension and other health benefits and if he dies in action then the pension continues for his family. With this scheme, it ends the major reason for applying for the service i.e. the pension benefits.

The fourth issue is the recruitment through “all India, all class” in any regiment irrespective of caste, class, religion and region. As it is well known that until now the regimented system helps to create an innate sense of patriotism so how this diversity in a regiment will play out would also be understood with time. As loyalty to their regiment plays a very important role. The question is- “How committed the Agniveers will be?”

The fifth concern is, whether the young soldiers after their four-year period will act as a threat to society because of their knowledge of combat and their militarized training? This is so because when young people will be trained about weapons during the service, the skill acquired may be a deterrent for society as there may be more cases of violence by prematurely decommissioned soldiers.[14]

The sixth concern is, how the young soldiers will be able to absorb back into society when they have served as a soldier in the armed forces because in the regular jobs they will not feel any kind of patriotism and would lack a sense of purpose. This may lead to frustration, anxiety and depression. Therefore this reform has to be looked at with caution as many possibilities may or will play out with the floating of this scheme and thereby all the concerns need to be addressed.

CONCLUSION

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country around two years before, the recruitment into the armed forces has stalled. Although not all the vacancies will be filled through the Agnipath scheme but will be a bold step forward in the history of India as it sets to break the age-old structures created by Britishers. With a heavy reliance on technology such as artificial intelligence in warfare, the requirement of a leaner armed force is the need of the hour. Across the world, the militaries are trying to reduce the number of soldiers and increase the expenditure on modern weapons.

Every reform comes with various loopholes and lacunas which need to be addressed especially when it concerns the safety, defence and security of the country. Therefore the Government has to address all the problems of all the stakeholders involved with utmost sincerity for the success of this scheme. And the process has already begun with the Government on June 16, 2022, increasing the age limit to 23 years as a one-time waiver for the year 2022 to include all those who could not apply during the last two years because the recruitment process was held up due to COVID.[15] This was done after violent protests erupted in different parts of the country.

Author(s) Name: Vaibhvee Jangid (Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur)

References:

[1] Ministry of Defense, “In a transformative reform Cabinet clears AGNIPATH scheme for recruitment of youth in the Armed Forces” (MoD official website, 14 June 2022) <https://www.mod.gov.in/sites/default/files/pr_1.pdf > accessed 15 June 2022

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ministry of Defense, “In a transformative reform Cabinet clears AGNIPATH scheme for recruitment of youth in the Armed Forces” (MoD official website, 14 June 2022) <https://www.mod.gov.in/sites/default/files/pr_1.pdf > accessed 15 June 2022

[6] Krishn Kaushik, “What’s in Agnipath scheme” The Indian Express (India, 15 June 2022) 10

[7] Ministry of Defense (n 1)

[8] Ministry of Defence, “Raksha Mantri approves 10% reservation of jobs for Agniveers in Indian Coast Guard & Defence Civilian posts & 16 DPSUs” (MoD official website, 20 June 2022) <https://www.mod.gov.in/sites/default/files/prE1.pdf > accessed 20 June 2022

[9] Sujan Chinoy, “A reform called Agnipath” The Indian Express (India, 15 June 2022) 6

[10] Krishn Kaushik, “Behind protest: Temporary service, no pension, no healthcare benefit” The Indian Express (India, 17 June 2022) 1,2

[11] The Hindu Bereau, “BJP leaders, Army chief mount defence for Agnipath scheme” (The Hindu, 17 June 2022) <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/one-time-age-waiver-for-agnipath-recruitment-shows-government-cares-for-our-youth-defence-minister-rajnathsingh/article65536141.ece > accessed 17 June 2022

[12] Sujan Chinoy (n 9)

[13] Sujan Chinoy (n 9)

[14] Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “Playing with Agni” The Indian Express (India, 16 June 2022) 10

[15]Ministry of Defense, “Age relaxation for Agnipath scheme indicates Government’s concern for the youth Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh” (MoD official website, 20 June 2022) <https://www.mod.gov.in/sites/default/files/pr4.pdf > accessed 20 June 2022