The Agnipath scheme was conceptualised approximately three years ago with the aim of initiating new recruitment policy for the jawans of the defence forces. The new recruits will be referred as Agniveers. Both men and women meeting the laid down criteria will the eligible to join the armed forces for a four year tenure including training. This scheme is part of ongoing reforms in the defence forces as done in Ordnance Factory Board and DRDO. The scheme essentially has three parts viz recruitment, training and re-enrolment. It aims to get a pool of well-educated and skilled youth between 17.5 and 21 years from school, colleges, ITI, and other technical institutes and select the best of the best. After the selection they will go through a focussed and scientific training which will be in in accordance with the global standards. During the selection process due weightage will be given to the wards of serving, ex-servicemen, sportsmen, NCC certificate holders, IT and computer qualified persons. It is also understood the government and armed forces must have done a comprehensive assessment of the challenges that would be encountered while implementing the scheme. It was formulated after detailed feedback received from various teams from the armed forces who visited a number of schools, colleges and technical institutes. Most students expressed the view to serve the armed forces for a shorter duration. The proposal therefore, envisages a separate category of recruits to be called ‘Agniveers’ who would serve for four years. Other terms of service being:
- Service from the date of enrolment;
- Fixed emoluments per month from Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 and admissible specific allowances;
- Thirty percent of emoluments along with similar amount by the government will be deposited in a corpus to be paid after four years;
- Non-contributory insurance cover of Rs 48 lakh;
- Medical, canteen and travel facilities during period of engagement;
- Enhancement of skills, educational qualification up to graduation and diplomas;
- Death and disability compensation from Rs 15 to Rs 44 lakh.
- Only the best of the best 25% will be retained after four years and rest will be discharged with approximately Rs 12 lakh. However, they will not get gratuity or ex-servicemen status or benefits.
Before going into the merits or demerits of the scheme, the methodology followed by other countries needs to be understood.
If looked in totality, the scheme covers most of the requirements projected by the aspirants. In normal course any individual will be completing his graduation only by around 21 to 22 years of age and thereafter will be looking for a suitable job which is not easily available in the present times
USA: The United States has approximately 13.5 lakh personnel in the armed forces excluding reservists. All citizens between 18 and 25 years are required to register for selective service in the armed forces. Those recruited, serve for 4 years with a reserve period of four years. However, pension is admissible only after 20 years of service.
France: France has the largest armed forces in the European Union, approximately 2.4 lakh with mix of voluntary and contractual personnel. Training period is three months. The service contract is one year extendable to 5 years. Pension eligibility is after 19 years of service.
Israel: Israel has a conscription model where men undergo 30 months of mandatory service and women 24 months. Up to 10 per cent of conscripts are retained and are given 7 years of contract. Pension eligibility is after 12 years of service.
Along with the above, the objectives of the stakeholders ie the Government, Armed Forces and the Youth (the Aspirants) also needs to be understood. Government:
- Maintain youthful profile of the Armed Forces.
- Better motivated , better trained , better skilled youth to take on the future challenges in Nation Building.
- Monetary saving to modernise the forces.
- Employment generation.
- Lower average age profile of Army (24 to 26 years) to have younger and proficient jawans with increased physical fitness to take on the challenges of the inhospitable terrain on our borders.
- Intake of youth from wide spectrum of society who are better educated and better skilled thus reducing the duration of training in training centres
- Improved system of selection and training at par with global standards to meet the present day battle field requirements.
- Concentrate on replacing the obsolete equipment and acquiring the latest weapon systems and equipment.
- Already motivated to contribute to Nation Building by preparing and clearing the requisite selection criteria.
- Aim to serve for full pensionary benefits (15 to20 years).
- Worried about job opportunity after 4 years as Agniveer.
- Want more percentage to be absorbed after four years.
- Dearness allowance to be added to fixed component of pay to offset the inflation.
If looked in totality, the scheme covers most of the requirements projected by the aspirants. In normal course any individual will be completing his graduation only by around 21 to 22 years of age and thereafter will be looking for a suitable job which is not easily available in the present times. The Agniveers after four years of service will have requisite educational qualification and skills which will enable them to be selected for a permanent job in government, public or private sector. Government and the Armed Forces are already deliberating this issue with various Government departments as also public and private sector units. It is expected that in times to come this will be fully formalised and placement agencies would be created to ensure suitable employment for the Agniveers. Already, some State Governments, ministries, public and private industries have announced proposal to provide job opportunities. As compared to their peers, some Agniveers will have better educational qualification, skills and enough money with them to become job providers and not only job-seekers.
“A well-thought out scheme, open to amendments”
Dismissing the allegation that the Agnipath scheme is a half-baked one with no serious thought having gone into its formulation, Union Minister General (retired) V K Singh asserted that the scheme was drawn up after a series of studies, deliberations and considerations at various levels. According to General Singh, Ajay Vikram Singh Committee which explored the ways to transform the army had suggested that there should be a support force for the army.
Talking to Organiser, the former Army chief said, “There could be some blemishes, some tweaking needs to be done to make the scheme more effective.”
The Minister said, “The aim of the scheme is very simple. It is a short-term service. You take a young man 17.5 years. In this four years, there is a six-month training, rest of the period he serves for which there is a monthly pension. A part of it is cut which will be added to the severance package. He will earn about more than Rs 17 lakh at the end of the tenure which is much higher than he earns otherwise.”
General Singh made it clear that armed forces are not the avenue for of employment. “It is where people who want to serve the motherland, who are ready to lay down their lives go.” He said those recruits who fit the bill, the army will retain them even if it has been stipulated that only 25 per cent will only retained. “Unless you implement it on ground, you will not know the practical issues,” he added.
On the opposition’s criticism that the BJP had earlier promised ‘One Rank One Pension’ but it has rolled a ‘No Rank, No Pension’ scheme, General Singh said, “For the last 40 years, the Congress did nothing on One Rank One Pension. But when the BJP promised it, they wanted to take credit. The Government had implemented most of the demands of the army men.”
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That being so, it is not understood as to why wide-ranging disturbances are being caused within the country. Certainly the youth which is craving for serving the nation and the armed forces will never indulge in such vandalism and arson. Those who have the passion and emotion to protect the nation will never indulge in acts which will cause damage to the national assets and integrity. Who is therefore, inciting this disturbance, unrest and turbulence within the country? There has been a spurt in some social media enthusiasts who have suddenly found an excuse to vent their self-approved concern over the policy and their personal rejection of the projected selection process.
They are misguiding the youth and also causing damage to the well-established image of the armed forces. The defence authorities have rightly pointed out that those who are indulging in these acts are not fit to join the armed forces. Some political parties have also jumped in the fray and instead of dousing the fire they are adding fuel to it. They should have brought up the genuine concern of the youth to the authorities to find an amicable solution keeping the requirement of the armed forces uppermost as also the interest of the youth. The manner in which the arson and destruction has been caused, points to a planned and manipulated disinformation campaign thereby inciting mob mentality through waiting anti-social and vested interest elements.
The authorities including the Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force have themselves cleared all points raised to them regarding implementation and also confirmed that there will be continuous evaluation and changes will be incorporated wherever necessary
It does not mean that the fears and apprehensions of the aspirants were unfounded. Ideally, complete details of the scheme should have been announced at the outset. Thereafter, their genuine concerns should have been addressed. The media and ex-servicemen after being briefed adequately would have been the ideal messengers to allay all fears. A pilot project could have been carried out at limited scale to test the scheme and incorporate changes if required.
It is also an established fact that a change in existing system causes discomfort to those who resist change. At the same time change for the better must be welcomed .No system can be fool proof. The scheme should be tried, tested and evaluated and modified if necessary. This has also been clarified by the Government which has left its implementation totally to the armed forces who have the proven capability in doing so. The authorities including the Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force have themselves cleared all points raised to them regarding implementation and also confirmed that there will be continuous evaluation and changes will be incorporated wherever necessary. They have also expressed their commitment in ensuring all help to the Agniveers who will be discharged after 4 years in getting jobs. This should allay all fears, doubts and apprehensions of the scheme. It is for all to be with the armed forces and the youth in ensuring effective implementation of the scheme.