From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 3- Agnipath scheme
Recently, the Agnipath scheme for recruitment of short-term contracted soldiers was announced.
About Agnipath Scheme
- This will be the only form of recruitment of soldiers into the three defence services from now.
- The scheme aims at strengthening national security and for providing an opportunity to the youth to serve in the armed forces.
- Recruits under the scheme will be known as ‘Agniveers’.
- After completing the four-year service, they can apply for regular employment in the armed forces.
- They may be given priority over others for various jobs in other government departments.
- The move is expected to decrease the average age profile of armed forces personnel from the current 32 to 24-26 years over a period of time.
Benefits of the Agnipath Scheme
- Lower the average age: The average age in the forces is 32 years today, which will go down to 26 in six to seven years, the scheme envisions.
- Youthful armed forces will allow them to be easily trained for new technologies.
- Employment opportunities: It will increase employment opportunities and because of the skills and experience acquired during the four-year service such soldiers will get employment in various fields.
- High-skilled workforce: The scheme will also lead to the availability of a higher-skilled workforce to the economy which will be helpful in productivity gain and overall GDP growth
Financial constraints and challenges
- Directing funds towards modernisation: It has been argued that the savings in the pensions bill — which will show up on the books only after a couple of decades — would be directed towards the modernisation of defence forces.
- The armed forces do not have that kind of time available to them to postpone their already long-delayed modernisation.
- Shortage: The Indian Air Force is already down to 30 squadrons of fighter jets against the 42 squadrons it needs, and the Indian Navy is at 130 ships when its vision was to be a 200-ship navy; the Indian Army is already short of 1,00,000 soldiers.
- Instead of expanding the economy to support the military, the Government has resorted to shrinking the military.
Issues with the short-term recruitment
- No theoretical modelling: As the short-term recruitment policy has neither been theoretically modelled nor tried out as a pilot project, the exact consequences of the move will only be known as they play out.
- Adverse effect on professional capabilities: But its adverse effect on the professional capabilities of the armed forces is certain.
- It starts with the very high turnover of young soldiers, the increase in training capacities and infrastructure and the augmentation of the administrative setup for greater recruitment, release, and retention of soldiers.
- An armed forces boasting of a poor teeth-to-tail ratio is further increasing the tail.
- Impact on operational capabilities: The tooth-to-tail ratio (T3R), in military jargon, is the amount of military personnel it takes to supply and support (“tail”) each combat soldier (“tooth”).
- The Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy employ their airmen and sailors in very specialised roles, which require technical skills, and a high degree of training and experience.
- Because the short-term contractual soldier model (the Agniveer scheme) is going to take a few years to fully play out at an organisational level, the actual degradation of operational capability will only be known then.
- Class-based recruitment abolished: In the Agnipath proposal, the class-based recruitment has been replaced with an all-India all-class recruitment.
- It will strike at the core of the organisational management, leadership structures and operating philosophy of the Indian Army.
- Even though the soldiers in the Indian Army are professionally trained, they also draw their motivation from their social identity — where each soldier cares for his reputation among the peers in his caste group or his village or his social setting.
- To replace that with a pure professional identity of a soldier will bring its own challenges in a tradition-bound army.
- Training challenges: There will be major problems in training, integrating and deploying soldiers with different levels of experience and motivations.
- An organisation which depends on trust, camaraderie and esprit de corps could end up grappling with rivalries and jealousies amongst winners and losers, especially in their final year of contract.
- Legal challenges: Even though the Government has kept the contract at four years to deny the Agniveer gratuity and is not counting the contractual period towards regular service, these provisions are bound to be challenged legally.
- Over time, this will lead to the salary and pension budget creeping back up again.
- Political imbalance: The Agnipath scheme also does away with the idea of a State-wise quota for recruitment into the Army, based on the Recruitable Male Population of that State which was implemented from 1966.
- This prevented an imbalanced army.
- Academic research shows that the high level of ethnic imbalance has been associated with severe problems of democracy and an increased likelihood of civil war.
- Impact on motivation: A short-term contractual soldier, without earning pension, will be seen as doing jobs after his military service that are not seen to be commensurate in status and prestige with the profession of honour.
- Impact on motivation: It will reduce the motivation of those joining on short-term contracts while diminishing the “honour” of a profession which places extraordinary demands on young men.
- Social unrest: There are numerous examples of demobilised soldiers leading to increased violence against minorities.
- This could happen in India as the youth who are not given regular recruitment after four year’s service would turn to violence.
The Government’s yearning for financial savings runs the risk of reducing the honour of a profession, the stability of a society and the safety of a country.