The Agnipath scheme introduced by the Government of India on June 14, 2022, for the Defence service recruitment has been widely criticized and condemned. The opposition parties, defense analysts, farmers, and aspiring army recruits have criticized the scheme introduced without prior discussion and had various flaws. The angry youth have been burning buses, damaging public properties, and vandalizing government offices nationwide. This blog addresses one significant grievance raised regarding the slashing of the pension and elucidates why the government should not do away with the pension for the army recruits.
WHAT IS THE AGNIPATH SCHEME?
The Agnipath scheme applies to all three defense services– the Army, the navy, and the air force– and is meant for recruitment for all levels below that of commissioned officers. Army recruits who will enroll based on the scheme will be called Agniveers. Enrolment will be on an ‘All India All Class’ basis, and Agniveers will need to meet the medical requirements for enlistment. The educational requirement for becoming a General Duty (GD) soldier is Class 10. The recruitment for the scheme will begin by September-October in 2022, and the recruitment is expected to be around 45,000 to 50,000 people. The scheme entails inducing young people under a contract, in the 17 and a half to 21 years age category, for four-year short employment in military uniform. Of these four years, their training would be for just six months; the remaining time is taken up for deployment as needed, including in operationally-challenging assignments.
After four years of being in the armed forces, only 25 percent of the most driven and best-performing soldiers will be offered to extend their stay with the forces for 15 years, and these soldiers will be called Agniveers. During the service term, Agniveers will get around Rs 40,000(monthly) by their 4th year. However, it is the 75 percent left out that will indeed suffer. From a corpus fund, the government will provide a severance of about Rs 11 lakh at the time of exit for those who don’t get selected. But will not be able to avail of pension benefits as was possible in the previous recruitment scheme. Besides, those left out will be unemployed, and being out of the job market for four years will not help them.
In the earlier system, there was 15 year plus service period followed by a lifelong pension for all. The government says it intends to create a younger armed force, but there could be another important reason. The Army has two expenditures–capital and revenue, of which revenue constitutes 75 percent and capital the rest 25 percent. Pension pay-outs come under the revenue expenditure. Also, out of the total defense budget of Rs 5.75 lakh crore, the pension constitutes 25 percent in FY23.Thus, by cutting a significant pension through this scheme, the government intends to increase the percentage of capital expenditure used to improve the quality of the armed forces.
WHY THE PENSION SCHEME CANNOT BE DONE AWAY WITH
This blog highlights the three critical reasons why it cannot be done away with. Firstly, the lack of pension can be a huge demotivating factor for Agniveer recruits. During the previous system, the recruits had a 15-year service period plus a decent pension for the rest of their lives. Now with the reduction in service period to 4 years and knowing that only 25 percent of them will get selected for further service, the recruits will not have the same level of passion and dedication. The importance of pension in the lives of these recruits cannot be discounted, with most of them coming from poor or middle-class backgrounds. The financial security that pensions provide their families with is a huge motivating factor in serving the armed forces. Nationalism and patriotism hardly fill empty bellies, and for army recruits, their family’s financial security is paramount even more due to the risk to their lives. So, the government’s cost-cutting measures shouldn’t come at the cost of those who stake their lives for the nation. The armed forces are the last profession in the nation that can afford any level of demotivation, especially given India’s tense borders.
Secondly, what will happen to those who finish their term and do not get selected, i.e., 75 percent of the recruits every year? They will get around 11 lakhs as a lump sum amount and a loan up to 18.2 lakh over three years but will that be enough to sustain the livelihood of these recruits and their families for the rest of their lives. With just about a 12th Standard pass certificate in hand and out of the job market for nearly four years, what hope is there for 75 percent of Agniveers? 30,000 to 40,000 unemployed people will be added to the job market every year; worse, they won’t even have a pension to salvage their financial situation. Surely none of their military training or 3.5 years of Army deployment will get them new jobs. What would be the societal risk and the social cost of dealing with a militarily trained, desperate army of unemployed young men? Besides, the unemployment situation in India is already so bad that engineering graduates are having to sit in their homes with their BTechs struggling to find even menial work. The overall unemployment rate in India has galloped to 7.83 percent in April 2022, and things aren’t looking exceptionally bright in the future either.
Lastly, taking a legal perspective, it can be argued that these soldiers should have the right to a decent pension under the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. While this article doesn’t make pension for armed forces mandatory, the judiciary should interpret pension as a means of stable livelihood under this fundamental right for Agniveers who would be forced out of the Army after four years.
This blog strongly makes a case for the reinstatement of pension, as these Agniveers, after four years of dedicated service to the nation, don’t deserve to be laid off in this manner. Some have argued that employers will be proud to have Agniveers after four years in the military. It is easier said than done, as corporates are more driven by profit goals than nationalism and recruit only the most qualified employees. Pride and patriotism are empty words to the bellies, and they don’t feed families; thus, pension is non-negotiable.
If the government wants to modernize the Army and cut costs, it should cut the pensions handed out to MPs and MLAs who empty government coffers much faster than they fill them. Military expenditure will need to be increased, for that is the only way to grow the Army, as has been done by the USA and Russia for years. Let this nation repay soldiers with more than just empty words of praise and rhetoric.
Author(s) Name: Aadithya J Nair (The National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi)
 “What Is Agnipath Scheme, Who All Can Apply? Check Eligibility, Salary and Other Details” (The Economic Times, 17 June 2022) <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/what-is-the-agnipath-scheme-who-all-can-apply-all-you-need-to-know/articleshow/92225306.cms?from=mdr> accessed 24 June 2022
 Major General BS Dhanoa (retd.), ‘Opinion: An Army Veteran’s 5 Suggestions for Agnipath Scheme’ (NDTV, 18 June 2022) <https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/an-army-veterans-5-suggestions-for-agnipath-scheme-3075424> accessed 24 June 2022
 What Is Agnipath Scheme: Why Agniveer Aspirants in Bihar Protesting against It’ (DNA India, 17 June 2022) <https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-agnipath-army-recruitment-mayawati-wants-agniveer-plan-revoked-why-bihar-aspirants-are-protesting-agnipath-2961072> accessed 24 June 2022
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 Rajat Mishra, ‘How the Agnipath Scheme Can Help in Modernising the Armed Forces’ (Business Today, 22 June 2022) <https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/policy/story/how-the-agnipath-scheme-can-help-in-modernising-the-armed-forces-338702-2022-06-22> accessed 24 June 2022
 Shivasundar, ‘Agnipath Is a Marketing Trick in Which Job Destruction Is Being Sold as Job Creation’ (The Wire, 19 June 2022) <https://thewire.in/government/agnipath-scheme-job-destruction-creation-modi-government> accessed 25 June 2022
 ‘Experts Sceptical about CMIE’s Unemployment Data’ (The Economic Times, 4 May 2022) <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/experts-sceptical-about-cmies-unemployment-data/articleshow/91289669.cms> accessed 25 June 2022
 Constitution of India, 1950, art.21