From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Agnipath scheme
Mains level : Paper 3-Agnipath Scheme
All major powers undertake a periodic (every 4-5 years) review of their evolving national security objectives. The government of India, on the other hand, has neglected to undertake any such exercise, in the past 75 years.
India’s defence budget for FY 2022-23
- In 2022-23, the Ministry of Defence has been allocated Rs 5,25,166 crore.
- This includes expenditure on salaries of armed forces and
civilians, pensions, modernisation of armed forces, production establishments, maintenance, and research and development organisations.
- According to the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute (SIPRI), India was the third largest defence spender in absolute terms in 2020
after USA and China.
- In the last decade (2012-13 to 2022-23), the budget of the Ministry of Defence has grown at an annual average rate of 8.6%, while total government expenditure has grown at 10.8%.
- Defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP declined from 2.3% in 2012-13 to 2% in 2022-23.
Neglect of defence expenditure in India
- Defence expenditure as non-plan expenditure: Independent India saw defence expenditure being relegated to the “non-plan” category, within the ambit of a Soviet-inspired, central economy.
- Pension bill linked to defence budget: In another anomaly, the pension bill of veteran soldiers — a separate charge on the exchequer — was linked to the defence budget.
- Neglect of modernisation needs: And the growing pension bill was given as an excuse for the dwindling funds available for force-enhancement and hardware replacement/modernisation.
- As a result, the finance ministry, instead of finding ways and means of raising essential, additional funds for national defence demanded that they evolve measures for reducing the pension bill.
Two issues with our national security approach
1] Lack of periodic review
- Every nation faces the eternal “guns vs butter” dilemma.
- Periodic review: All major powers undertake a periodic (every 4-5 years) review of their evolving national security objectives, the options available, and the economic/military means available for achieving them.
- Apart from providing fiscal guidance, this process also facilitates the evolution of a national security strategy.
- China, has, since 2002, been issuing, with unfailing regularity, a biennial “Defence White Paper”, which encapsulates all of the foregoing, and is available on the Internet; for the information of foes and friends, alike.
- The government of India, on the other hand, has neglected to undertake any such exercise, in the past 75 years.
- India is amongst the few major powers which has failed to issue a National Security Strategy or Doctrine.
2] Lack of organisation reforms
- A second fact that we need to face is that our armed forces have remained in a Second World War time-warp, as far as their organisation and doctrines are concerned.
- Lack of political will and internal resistance: Attempts at organisational reform have come to naught due to lack of political will as well as internal resistance from the services; with the constitution of a Chief of Defence Staff and creation of a Department of Military Affairs providing the latest examples.
- Given the transformed nature of warfare, down-sizing of the Indian army, by substituting manpower with smart technology and innovative tactics, has become an imperative need.
- Recently announced Agnipath scheme provides for the recruitment of youths in the age bracket of 17-and-half to 21 years for only four years with a provision to retain 25 per cent of them for 15 more years.
- Later, the government extended the upper age limit to 23 years for recruitment in 2022.
- The personnel to be recruited under the new scheme will be known as Agniveers.
Suggestions for Agneepath Scheme
- 1] Not the best time to introduce reform: Given the parlous security situation, on the country’s northern and western borders as well as the ongoing domestic turbulence, this is not the best time to cast the armed forces — already short of manpower — into turmoil, with a radical and untried new recruitment system.
- 2] The scheme is suitable for the army only: Such a scheme, in its present form, is suitable only for the army, whose large infantry component is not excessively burdened with technology.
- In case of the navy and air force, at least 5-6 years are required before a new entrant can acquire enough hands-on experience to be entrusted with the operation or maintenance of lethal weapon systems and complex machinery and electronics.
- 3] Trial before implementation: A radical change of this nature should have been subjected to a trial before service-wide implementation.
- Ideally, a few units of the regular or Territorial Army could have been earmarked as a testing ground, and feed-back obtained.
- 4] Legal backing to post-demobilisation employment: Experience of the past has shown that the home ministry has resisted induction of ex-servicemen into the armed-police and para-military forces, on the grounds that it would spoil the career path of their own cadres.
- Neglect by the state government: Similarly, state governments and other agencies have blatantly ignored the reservations mandated for ESM.
- Therefore, if the Agnipath scheme has to offer a meaningful promise of post-demobilisation employment or education, this must be mandated by an Act of Parliament, on the lines of the “GI Bill” enacted by the US Congress.
A scheme on the lines of Agnipath, appropriately constituted, and focused on enhancing “combat effectiveness” rather than “effecting savings” or “generating employment,” could have triggered a reformative process. But the above given caveats need to be borne in mind in this context.