The government is all set to announce on Wednesday a key change in how soldiers will be recruited for the Armed Forces, The Indian Express has learnt. Under the new Tour of Duty system, likely to be named “Agnipath”, soldiers or “Agniveer” will be recruited for a period of four years at the end of which they will get over Rs 10 lakh tax-free and certificates or diplomas for their service.
The move aims to recruit about 45,000-50,000 personnel below officer rank in the three services every year through a biannual exercise with a six-month gap. At the end of their tenure, 25 per cent of these recruits will be inducted back into the services, although the modalities for this process are yet to be finalised.
Sources said that candidates between the ages of 17-and-a-half years and 21 years will be eligible to apply, and recruitment will be conducted under existing qualification criteria. The recruits will undergo training for six months and serve for the remaining period. Currently, a soldier serves for nearly 17-20 years.
Under the new scheme, the starting salary will be Rs 30,000, which will go up to Rs 40,000 by the end of the fourth year. However, 30 per cent of the salary will be held back as savings, and an equal amount contributed by the Government per month, under the Seva Nidhi scheme. The total amount, between Rs 10 lakh to Rs 12 lakh, will be given to the soldier at the end of four years, and will be tax-free.
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Sources said that based on skills acquired during training and tenure, the soldiers are likely to be awarded either a diploma or credits that could be used for further education. There will be a “whole of government approach” to help rehabilitate these soldiers after the four-year period, they said.
The move is expected to address several issues related to the Armed Forces, and bring relief to lakhs of youth aspiring to join the Army and navy and Air Force Armed Forces.
There has been almost no recruitment of soldiers for the three services over the past two years. More than 1 lakh positions for Junior Commissioned Officers of Other Ranks are vacant in the Army, according to data shared by the Defence Ministry in Parliament on March 28. More than 90 recruitment rallies were held each year in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but only 47 in 2020-2021 and just four in 2021-2022 due to the pandemic, it stated.
The new system is also expected to bring an “all India, all class” recruitment process to the services, allowing anyone from any region and background to become part of all regiments, some of which currently have certain demarcations.
For the Government, a key advantage would be savings in pension. It had allocated nearly Rs 1.2 lakh crore for pension to the Defence Ministry and the Armed Forces in the current fiscal year — about a quarter of the total defence budget and larger than the capital acquisition allocation.
According to one of several projections under the plan that was first proposed about two years ago, the comparison of costs incurred by the Government for one soldier under the existing and proposed systems would lead to a lifetime saving of Rs 11.5 crore. Sources said “there are likely to be immense financial benefits to the organisation due to reduction in pay and gratuity payouts”.
However, sources acknowledged that there are concerns as well, as most of the soldiers will now serve for only four years without pension compared to the nearly 20 years of service with pension under the current system.
There are also apprehensions over whether the training and tenure will be enough for some of the operations that these soldiers may need to carry out.
The initial proposal, made by the Army, had said the idea was to open up recruitment for youth who do not want to make the services their permanent vocation but still want to experience the adventure of military professionalism — without entry criteria being relaxed.
The original plan was to shift from the concept of “permanent service” to an “internship or “temporary service” — and to implement the plan on a “trial basis for both officer and other ranks…initially for a limited number of vacancies and then expanded later, if found successful”.
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