AGNIPATH FOR AGNIVEERS: A PATHWAY TO INDIAN ARMED FORCES
Author: Khyati Jain, II year of B.Com.,LL.B.(Hons.) from School of Law, JECRC University, Jaipur
Co-author: Prerna Singh, II year of B.Sc.,LL.B.(Hons.) from School of Law, JECRC University, Jaipur
The government of India unveiled "Agnipath Scheme," on June 14th 2022, a defense reform initiative that had previously known by the name "Tour of Duty." The objective is to implement such reform is commendable because it defies stereotypes and helps in implementing urgently required needs in the army, navy, and air force. However, there are several issues and problems with the implementation of this scheme for both the soldiers and society as a whole such as little period of service, no pension given etc.[i]
It has received a lot of flak and condemnation. The concept was presented without prior discussion and was attacked by the opposition parties, defense analysts, farmers, and prospective army recruits for having a number of problems. The irate teenagers have vandalized government buildings, burned down buses, and damaged public property nationwide. In this blog, the researchers have discussed the need for this scheme, its repercussion and the issues raised by the people.
ABOUT THE SCHEME
The Agnipath system is intended for recruiting at all levels below commissioned officers and is applicable to all three branches of the armed forces: the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The plan would enroll Army recruits, who will be referred to as Agniveers. Agniveers will be enrolled on a "All India All Class" basis and not on the basis of regional and caste, this is also a major reason for the protest, and must adhere to the medical standards for enlisting. The educational requirement for becoming a General Duty (GD) soldier is Class 10. The eligibility criteria for the recruitment with respect to educational qualification has been given as 10th pass and 12th pass depends upon force to force. They can apply for various post such as technical, technical aviation, clerk and store keeper etc.[ii]
By September or October of 2022, applications for the programme will open, and it is anticipated that 45,000 to 50,000 people will apply. The recruitment is divided in majorly two parts, one is up to 25000 Agniveers will be recruited in the first half of December 2022 and by first half of February 2023, the remaining are recruited. The plan comprises recruiting young people for a four-year contract in military uniform in the age range of 17 and a half to 21. Of these four years, only six months would be devoted to training; the rest would be used for deployments, particularly those involving difficult operational tasks.[iii]
After the completion of the 4 years, only 25% of the most motivated and effective troops will be given the opportunity to extend their service with the military for 15 years. By the fourth year of the service term, Agniveers will receive about Rs 40,000 (monthly). The sufferer will, however, be the 75% who were excluded. The government will pay individuals who aren't chosen a severance of roughly Rs 11 lakh from a corpus fund at the time of leaving.[iv] However, they won't be able to take advantage of pension benefits like they could under the prior hiring policy. Additionally, those excluded will be jobless, and missing out on the job market for four years and it will be very difficult for them to survive and support their family with just a certificate of 12th pass in hand.
In the previous system, there was a minimum 15-year service requirement followed by a universal pension. Although the government claims to want a more youthful military, there may be other significant factors at play. The Army has two expenditures: capital and revenue, with capital accounting for 25% of total expenditures and income for 75% of them. Pension payouts are classified as a revenue expense. Additionally, the pension accounts for 25% of the $5.75 trillion total defense expenditure in FY23.[v] Therefore, the government plans to enhance the percentage of capital expenditure utilized to raise the quality of the armed forces by reducing a sizeable pension through this programme.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS BENEFITS
This radical departure from the established employment norms in the recruitment procedure for the three military forces would be brought about by the Agnipath Scheme. This scheme will also be opened for the women based on service requirements who had a wish to serve their life for nation. As the goal is to lower the average age from 32 years to 26 years within the next four to five years, it will result in a younger military. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh explains that one of the main benefits of having a young military is that they can receive better training in cutting-edge technologies. Admiral R Hari Kumar said that there are women officers who are already deployed on frontline warships and the women sailors who become part through this scheme will provide armed forces with a “wider talent pool” and prove to be an asset.[vi]
The removal of pension benefits, which means that after four years of service, they will not receive a pension but will instead receive other advantages like the Seva Nidhi fund and tax exemption. The government has announced a 10% reservation for "Agniveers" in the Assam Rifles and central police services, with an upper age relaxation. The Coast Guard, defense civilian positions, 16 defense PSUs, including significant ones like Hindustan Aeronautics and Bharat Electronics, as well as four shipyards and 41 ordnance factories, will all be covered by the 10% quota that the Defense Ministry has proposed.
The Agniveers will receive a unique qualification certificate on the successful completion of their service, and the skills which they have acquired and the training that they have received will result in making them a better and more useful and obedient human resource for society. Last but not least, if soldiers choose to pursue higher education, their membership in the army, navy, or air force will be taken into account when determining their eligibility for financial aid. They will also receive a Class 12 equivalent certificate and bridging courses to help them continue their education.
Firstly, Agniveers recruits may find it extremely demotivating to work without a pension. Under prior recruitment system, the recruits had a 15-year service commitment and received a respectable pension for the rest of their lives. In this new scheme the recruits won't have the same degree of zeal and determination now that the service commitment will only be for 4 years and they will only be selected for additional service in 25% of cases. Given that the majority of these recruits come from low-income or middle-class families, the significance of pensions in their life cannot be understated. A major incentive for joining the armed forces is the financial security which they get from the government in the form of pension which helps to support their families. The feeling of Nationalism and patriotism don't exactly satisfy hungry stomachs, and for army recruits, the financial stability of their family is utmost importance given the danger to their life. Therefore, the government's cost-cutting initiatives shouldn't be at the expense of those who put their lives in danger to defend the country. Given India's volatile borders, the armed services are the last profession in the country that can afford any amount of demotivation.
Secondly, what will happen to the 75 percent of recruits who do not get chosen after serving their term? Although they will receive a lump sum payment of about 11 lakhs and a loan of up to 18.2 lakh over three years, would that be enough to provide for these recruits' and their families' met needs for the rest of their lives? What hope do 75% of Agniveers have with just a 12th standard pass certificate in hand and being unemployed for almost four years? Every year, 30,000 to 40,000 more individuals will become unemployed, and to make matters worse, they won't even have pensions to help them financially. Surely none of their military education or their 3.5 years of Army service will result in new employment. What would the risk and expense to society be if it had to deal with a military-trained, frantic army of unemployed young men? In April 2022, India's overall unemployment rate rocketed to 7.83 percent, and the future doesn't appear to be particularly promising either.
The third issue is the soldier's ability to learn new skills in six months of training as opposed to recruits to the normal cadre. Many things would depend on it, including the types of tasks they would fill because younger armed personnel cannot compromise on training, professionalism, or experience. If we look into the recruitment process of other countries- The Israeli military, one of the best in the world, has one of the shortest service requirements in the world, with men and women serving for 30 and 22 months, respectively. Short-term contracts are not exclusive to Israel; they also exist with the US, UK, and France. Therefore, it is necessary to assess both factors fairly.
The fourth issue is how the young soldiers will be able to reintegrate into society after serving in the armed forces because they won't feel any sense of patriotism or purpose in their regular occupations. Frustration, anxiety, and sadness could result from this. Since there are many potential outcomes associated with the flotation of this scheme, it is important to address all of the issues before moving forward with this reform.
The final issue is if the young soldiers would pose a threat to society once their four-year commitment is up because of their experience in battle and military training. This is because training young people in the use of weapons while they are in the military may serve as a deterrent for society since there may be an increase in incidences of violence by soldiers who have been prematurely discharged from the military and it will also be a very difficult task for the young soldiers who comes under 75% to live a normal life after serving four years in forces.[vii]
The military recruitment process has halted and severely affected from the last 2 years due to the COVID 19 pandemic which struck the nation. Even while not all of the vacancies will be filled through the Agnipath programme, it will still be a brave move in Indian history as it seeks to dismantle the centuries-old structure created by the British. This scheme seems as a second chance for those young minds who want to become part of forces but couldn’t make it to the exam. This Scheme not only helps the young minds by giving them opportunity to serve nation but also if they are not selected in the 25% then with that money and the training of various technologies which they will receive can help them to start a startup and in the near future we will see some successful entrepreneur. The necessity for a smaller armed force is urgent given the heavy dependence on technology, such artificial intelligence, in battle. The militaries all over the world are attempting to minimize the number of soldiers while increasing spending on cutting-edge weapons.
Every reform has flaws and gaps that must be filled, especially when they relate to the nation's safety, defense, and security. To ensure the success of this programme, the government must resolve all issues raised by all parties engaged with the utmost honesty. The process has already started, with the government raising the age requirement to 23 years old as a one-time waiver for the year 2022 to include all individuals who were unable to apply over the previous two years because the recruiting procedure was delayed due to COVID. After violent protests broke out across the nation, this was done.[viii]
[i]Ministry of Defense, “In a transformative reform Cabinet clears AGNIPATH scheme for recruitment of youth in the Armed Forces” (MoD official website, 14 June) https://www.mod.gov.in/sites/default/files/pr_1.pdf [ii]Ibid. [iii]“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> [iv]Ministry of Defense, “In a transformative reform Cabinet clears AGNIPATH scheme for recruitment of youth in the Armed Forces” (MoD official website, 14 June) https://www.mod.gov.in/sites/default/files/pr_1.pdf [v]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> [vi]Rajat Pandit, ‘Government unveils radical scheme to recruit soldiers for 4 years’ (The Times of India, 15 June 2022) https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/government-unveils-radical-scheme-to-recruit-soldiers-for-4-years/articleshow/92214121.cms [vii]Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “Playing with Agni” The Indian Express (16 June 2022) [viii]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 >