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Behind Agnipath scheme protest: Temporary stint, no pension or health benefit

The Agniveers, as the soldiers will be called under the four-year Agnipath scheme, will be paid for the tenure, and will get a lumpsum amount of Rs 11.7 lakh at the end of the service, which will be tax free.

Behind Agnipath scheme protest: Temporary stint, no pension or health benefitFor those protesting on the streets or watching from the sidelines, the primary concerns and insecurity have to do with the temporary nature of the new scheme (Express Photo)

Hours after protests erupted in several parts of the country against the short-term Agnipath scheme for the armed forces, officials sought to allay concerns and circulated a Myth vs Fact document to underline that the new scheme will not only bring in new capabilities but will also open up avenues in the private sector, and help the young men become entrepreneurs with the aid of a financial package.

For those protesting on the streets or watching from the sidelines, the primary concerns and insecurity have to do with the temporary nature of the new scheme — service is only for four years; pension has been removed; and there is no lifelong healthcare benefit for the soldier and his family.

There is also the fear that many of them may no longer be eligible — there has been no recruitment since 2020, and to become an Agniveer an aspirant has to be between age 17.5 and 21. Late Thursday night, the government granted a one-time waiver on the upper age limit by raising it to 23 years for 2022.

Until now, a soldier had job security for approximately 17 years, and thereafter the comfort of pension and access to subsidised healthcare for himself and his family. In case a soldier died in action, the benefits continued for his family.

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The Agnipath scheme will end these benefits. One of the core but unsaid aims of the scheme is to cut down on the soaring salary and pension bill of the armed forces. For this year, the government has allocated over Rs 2.5 lakh crore under these two heads alone, out of the Rs 5.25 lakh crore defence budget.

The Agniveers, as the soldiers will be called under the four-year Agnipath scheme, will be paid for the tenure, and will get a lumpsum amount of Rs 11.7 lakh at the end of the service, which will be tax free. There is no concept of pension or lifelong health benefits.

In case an Agniveer dies while in service, the family will get Rs 1 crore including insurance, ex-gratia and balance salary. But it will be a one-time payout.

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These benefits will, however, continue for those who become part of the armed forces after the four-year period. As the scheme envisages, all Agniveers will finish their four-year tenure and then there will be fresh recruitment of 25 per cent of the same pool. They will continue in the services for 15 more years, and will get pension and the health benefits existing today.

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The rest though will be free to pursue other careers, with several departments and governments announcing that they will get preference, educational credits, skill certificates, to help them rehabilitate in other fields.

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Official sources said the theory that Agniveers will be “insecure” is a myth. Those wishing to be entrepreneurs, the sources said, will get a financial package and bank loans and those wishing to study further “will be given 12 class equivalent certificate and bridging course for further studies”.

For job-seekers, the government has already said they will get priority in the Central Armed Police Forces. Some BJP-ruled states have also assured priority in police recruitment. Additionally, the government has said “several avenues are also being opened for them in other sectors”.

There is also concern about how the new recruitment path will align with the previous system based on the Recruitable Male Population (RMP) system for the Army, which is the proportion of the male population, which meets the Qualitative Recruitments laid down for recruitment, and is about 10 per cent of the total male population of a state, based on the census.

Sources within the defence services said the modalities of how this will happen are still being worked out. But the sources suggested that the population of the armed forces will represent the population of the country.

Government sources claimed that in the coming years “recruitment of Agniveers will be around triple of the current recruitment in armed forces.” But on Tuesday, the day of the announcement of the scheme, the government said the intake this year will be 46,000, and will go up to 50,000 to 60,000 annually over the years.

First published on: 17-06-2022 at 04:00:43 am
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