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[Sansad TV] Mudda Aapka: Agnipath Scheme

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Context

  • The violence and arson marked the fourth consecutive day of protests against the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces.
  • The students’ outrage turned ugly as a group of protestors resorted to vandalism and set a train ablaze to register their anger against the move.

What is Agnipath Scheme?

  • This will be the only form of recruitment of soldiers into the three defence services from now.
  • 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.

Working of the scheme

  • The process of recruitment will commence in 90 days with a planned intake of 46,000 young men and women this year.
  • Enrolment to all three services will be through a centralized online system, with special rallies and campus interviews at recognized technical institutes.
  • Recruitment will be carried out on an “All India All Class” basis with the eligibility age ranging from 17.5 to 21, with medical and physical fitness standards in accordance with existing norms.

Payouts of the Agniveers

  • The ‘Agniveers’ will receive an annual package of ₹4.76 lakh in the first year to ₹6.92 lakh in the fourth year, apart from risk and hardship and other allowances as applicable.
  • Under the ‘Seva Nidhi’ package, they will receive about ₹11.71 lakh, including contribution and interest, on completion of service.
  • The recruits will have to contribute 30% of their monthly emoluments to Seva Nidhi, with a matching contribution made by the government.
  • There will be no entitlement to gratuity and pension benefits under the scheme.
  • However, the ‘Agniveers’ will be provided a non-contributory life insurance cover of ₹48 lakh during their service.

Why are aspirants protesting?

  • Contractualisation of armed forces: The foundation of this scheme is a four-year contract.
  • Jobs for the majority: States such as Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, are where the bulk of the Army recruitment takes place.
  • Perks and benefits: Many of these people value job stability, which includes retirement benefits and pensions over competitive salaries.
  • Uncertainty after end of commission: Most of them will be forced to leave the job within four years, which doesn’t fit into their hopes and aspirations.
  • Casualization of Training: It reportedly takes two to three years to train a member of the army, but as a part of the Agnipath, soldiers will only be trained for six months.
  • Threats to national security: Defence analysts have allegedly pointed out that the Russian soldiers who were trained for a limited amount of time before they went to war have performed disastrously.
  • Conflicts of interest: Apprehensions have been voiced against how the new recruits will be adjusted in the existing system under which most of the Army units are region, caste or class-based.

Reasons behind aspirants’ frustration

  • Unemployment: Analysts always cite the crunch of gazetted officers in the Armed forces and there has been no recruitment for the last two years.
  • Pandemic impact: Many aspirants lost their chance to join the Armed forces as they are now overage.’
  • Unanticipated reforms: In guise of a push for “major defence policy reform”, the scheme is a fuss.
  • Coaching mafias: Coaching mafias have played a significant role in sparking and provoking protesters.  

Need for the Scheme: Official explanation

  • Budgetary efficiency: With the largest volunteer army in the world, paying an increased salary and pension bill, given rising incomes all around, has steadily eroded the capital side of the defence budget.
  • Preferential treatment: For job-seekers, the government has already said they will get priority in the Central Armed Police Forces.
  • Promotional avenues: One significant advantage of this scheme would be the much lower age profile of the service. It will increase the promotional avenues of the permanent cadre.
  • Diverse career options: Once retired, aspirants will be free to pursue other careers, with several departments and governments.
  • Selective skilling: Aspirants will get preference, educational credits, skill certificates, to help them rehabilitate in other fields.
  • Financial assistance: Those wishing to be entrepreneurs will get a financial package and bank loans and those wishing to study further will be given 12 class equivalent certificate.

Way forward

  • Longer contract term: Make the period of the contract for new recruits longer than four years. The present clarification fails to address this issue.
  • Continuance of the commission: Relook the 25 per cent re-enlistment at the end of the contractual period. Ideally, it should be over 50 per cent retention for long-term posts.
  • Policy commitment for reabsorption: For those leaving after their short service, do obtain a binding commitment from CAPFs, states’ police forces and other organisations that they are willing to absorb this trained military manpower.
  • Gradual shift in recruitment policy: Continue with existing regular enrolment, in reduced numbers, and gradually shift to the Tour of Duty once it stabilizes after five to ten years.

Conclusion

  • A nation should never compromise with the personnel who make up the fighting sinews of its armed forces.
  • The best way to prevent such an impression is to look upon them not as a burden to the exchequer, but as rough diamonds, to be cut and polished to their maximum capabilities and then deployed in the defence of the nation.
  • A diamond is forever, our future men and women in uniform too deserve to serve to their maximum for the betterment of the nation and their own lives. 
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