CHECKS AND BALANCES: Is the new scheme a step in the right direction as it cuts expenses and brings youth to forces, or will it leave youngsters high and dry after four years? Sweta Ranjan discusses pros and cons of the government’s latest move with four experts
GN Bureau | June 21, 2022
The government this week announced the Tour of Duty or 'Agnipath' scheme for the recruitment of soldiers in the armed forces. Under this scheme new soldiers will be recruited only for four years. This radical and far-reaching scheme has attracted mixed reactions from various quarters. While some officials who have served in the defence forces propose to look at it with “an open mind” and as a step to strengthen the forces, some think it is “not a good idea”.
Under the 'Agnipath' - Tour of Duty recruitment scheme, non-commissioned officers (NCOs) can be recruited into three services of the armed forces for four years. The new policy would recruit both men and women in the age group of 17.5-21. [Following widespread protests, the upper age limit was raised to 23 on Thursday] The recruitment will be done for a period of four years and the soldiers will be known as “Agniveers”. They will be paid Rs 30,000 per month in the first year of service, which would rise to Rs 40,000 in the fourth year.
A quarter of these soldiers will be retained for further services on a permanent basis (they would have to serve for minimum 15 more years), whereas the rest would be let go. At the end of the period they will get Rs 11.71 lakh tax-free and certificates or diplomas for their service. The soldiers will also have non-contributory life insurance cover of Rs 48 lakh for the duration of their service. The first batch of soldiers would be recruited this year, totalling at 46,000.
The impending implementation of the new scheme has evoked mixed reactions.
As per the government, it is meant to address the need for changing times and new ground realities. The new scheme will enable the national exchequer to save money by putting an end to the pension scheme (Agniveers will not be entitled for pensions) which can be used for modernisation of the forces. Another viewpoint is that the armed forces will build a younger warrior profile.
The youth aspiring to join armed forces are apprehensive about the change. Agniveers will go through 26 weeks of basic military training (the existing module is of 44 weeks), after which they will be used in the forces for four years (four years including the training period). What is worrying the youth is that after the four-year engagement, they will have to go back in search of a job.
This has led to protests in many parts of the country against ‘Agnipath’. The scheme is viewed as not only being against the aspirations of the nation’s youth but also a step toward weakening the robust setup of the armed forces.
On the other hand, union ministers and the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders term the policy as "revolutionary" which will usher in a "golden tomorrow". Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has tried to assure the protesting youth that the scheme would add a new dimension to their life. He has said that the 'Agniveer', determined to serve Maa Bharati, will be an invaluable fund of the nation and the UP government will give preference to Agniveers in police and other services. Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar has also promised that the youth recruited in the armed forces under the "Agnipath" scheme will be given preference in government jobs in the state.
The latest edition of ‘Checks and Balances’, an online discussion hosted by Sweta Ranjan in which experts debate governance issues, takes up the question of the Agnipath: benefits and challenges on the path ahead.
Watch the discussion here:
Major General Shammi Sabharwal (Retd) welcomes the new scheme and calls it futuristic. He says, “I believe that change is the law of nature. Technically it is a good concept. This will enable the force level to stay young always. We need to wait and watch how this will be implemented. ... Yes, everybody wants a permanent job but in today's time we cannot make unlimited expenses.”
Commander Arun Jyoti, Submariner (Retd), also maintains that change is the only constant. “The way our warfare, geopolitics is going, it looks like a very strategic decision,” he says. “If a 17-year-old boy joins forces, he can be trained extremely well. After four years, at the age of 21 he can be confident and disciplined... Rather than not having anything, the youth has vacancies of more than 40,000 jobs each year. They will be trained and made ready for another life.”
Prashant Dikshit, a defence expert, refutes the idea behind the ‘Agnipath’ scheme. “I agree that the change is important but it should have some purpose. What was the need, I fail to understand. It is being said that this will lighten the financial burden on the national exchequer, but it can compromise national security. Some forces have technical orientation and some designed for the field. We do not have an answer for such questions.”
Ashok Wankhede, a senior journalist, feels that the new scheme will have huge ramifications for the overall structure and strength of the armed forces. “Since 2014 I have been noticing that such decisions are imposed upon the people, be it demonetisation or GST. I am not against this change in the forces, as warfare is changing. But there are two major factors we need to work upon: Since the warfare is different, we need to strengthen ourselves technically. Secondly, we need youth. But do we need youth who are uncertain? Those who join for four years will not relate themselves strongly to the forces. This will dilute professionalism, military ethos and fighting spirit.”
Wankhede also wonders about the future of Agniveers after their tenure ends. “After four years of work, who will ensure for them a job with Rs 40,000 salary, equivalent to his last salary at least? He will be paid approximately Rs 12 lakh by the end of four years, but in today's time when the inflation is so high, Rs 12 lakh is not a huge sum.”
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