Friday, September 30th, 2022 05:05:33

Agnipath scheme connects multiple dots in the ecosystem of national security

By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal
Updated: July 8, 2022 10:52 am

Agnipath Pravesh Yojana, a new recruitment scheme for the Indian armed forces is a far-reaching reform. The Agnipath Recruitment Scheme is being planned and implemented by the Defense Department of India. The pan-India Recruitment Scheme aims to recruit many more youngsters and reduce the expenditure and age profile of the defense forces. Under the Agnipath (literally path of fire), soldiers to be known as Agniveers (literally fire-warriors) will be recruited for a three -year tour of duty without any pension entitlement but with the promise of yet to be specified assistance in getting post-discharge employment. During this period of service to the nation, the Agniveers will be imparted with various military skills and experience, discipline, physical fitness, leadership qualities, courage and patriotism. In the long run, the Agniveers will be infused into civil society where they can contribute to the nation-building process. Agniveers will also get a handsome salary called “Seva Nidhi” package. “Battle or attributed to military service casualties will be treated at par with regular soldiers.” A fixed percentage (25%) will be absorbed as regular soldiers on merit. The Scheme thus entails short term engagement for soldiers. Undeniably, short term engagement is a time-tested method of managing manpower and reducing the pension budget of the armed forces.

The non-availability of assured jobs for 75 per cent has generated negative sentiments regarding the scheme. Probably, the team behind the making of the Scheme could not explain the intended narrative in the desired manner. This has resulted in certain modifications being announced, like the age relaxation of up to two years for the next cycle recruitment and priority induction in CAPF/State government jobs including the State Police Force. The emerging changes would be addressed in due course of time.

The new scheme is a radical departure from the previous recruitment policy under which recruits were required to serve at least 17 years before they could retire with a pension. The scheme is visualized to “bring about a transformational shift towards more tech-savvy armed forces by attracting young talent familiar with contemporary technological trends and improving age profile of the armed forces.

Besides, there is a need to connect the multiple dots in the national security ecosystem and the creation of credible defense forces, besides national capacities being built in all the domains. A developed nation like Russia is struggling to get enough combatants to fight relatively a small country like Ukraine. India will also need to develop capacities which may not necessarily be in the form of the standing army which is cost-prohibitive as well as not required given the way the wars are unfolding.  In such a situation, the additional availability of Agniveers will be advantageous for the country, for example, should a war break out with China and Pakistan simultaneously and there is a prolonged sustainability of it due to mountainous terrain and other considerations! Through the Agnipath Scheme, India will be able to create the surge capacities, should a necessity so arise! The move will also create a positive nationalist fervor in the country. Ukraine has been able to hold itself for so long against mighty Russia, precisely because of its nationalist feelings. The trained Agniveers will change the entire profile of the country with a positive national fervor.

The whole world is undergoing a great change as there will be contactless wars and wars against the invisible enemy. Technology has taken over at a rapid pace and there is a need to prepare for tomorrow to cater to this change. Moreover, security is a dynamic concept and it cannot remain static and in relation with the environment, national interests and national assets be protected. Agnipath is not a ‘standalone scheme’ as it requires equipment, it requires change in technology, it requires change in manpower and policies which have to be futuristic.

India allocated Rs 5.25 trillion for military spending this year. From this, over 70% of the defense expenditure would go into salary and pension of armed forces. The Scheme shall drastically reduce the pension expenditure in the long run, and thus enable the army to spend more on capital expenditure, including buying of big-ticket weapons, modern military systems, fighter jets, etc. The Scheme will enable more and more people to get a chance to serve the nation. Every four years, newcomers will join the armed forces and the same will reduce armed forces’ average age to 26 years (from the present 32 years).

In the wake of several reforms promulgated in the recent past such as the appointment of CDS (Chief of Defense Staff), the establishment of the Department of Military Affairs, the announcement of several domestic industries-friendly procurement measures, particularly the positive indigenization list and the coporatisation of the Ordnance Factories into seven DPSUs—the Agnipath Scheme heralds a new era of bold reforms to strengthen India’s defense preparedness. The Government/ Military needs to be credited for undertaking such a radical reform, more so for the emotive nature of the reform. The reform was long overdue and is in the interest of country’s defense preparedness.

The short tenure of the Agniveers would help the armed forces maintain a much younger profileto deal with the emerging threats. The job reservations in various sectors for Agniveers will ensure their continuous productive engagement in other sectors of the economy after they are out of the Armed Forces. However, there may be some teething problems. The immediate challenge is to devise a suitable training program for all Agniveers to make them fighting-ready. There would also be some disappointment for those who seek a longer tenure with a comfortable life-long pensionary benefit. One of the notable facts is to remember that India fought all the major wars of 1962, 1965 and 1971 when the engagement period was 7-10 years and the majority of the uniformed personnel were outside the pension bracket.

In brief, there cannot be disagreement over the fact that short-engagement is the only pragmatic way forward to arrest the rising pension bill. The Government/Military must take advantage of the default shortage of 200000 soldiers by the end of 2022 and take a giant stride for transformation of the armed forces through Agnipath Pravesh Yojana.


By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal

(The writer is Professor & Head, Department of English, Maharaja Ganga Singh University, Bikaner.)

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