Updated: June 15, 2022 5:56:44 am
Unveiling Agnipath, a “major defence policy reform” for recruitment of soldiers, sailors and airmen into the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force, the government Tuesday announced that personnel recruited under the scheme on short-term contractual basis will be called Agniveers.
The scheme, the government said, comes into effect immediately and will create “a much more youthful and technically adept war fighting force by ensuring a fine balance between youthful and experienced personnel” in the armed forces.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, General Manoj Pande, Admiral R Hari Kumar and Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari briefed the media after the proposal was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security. The Agnipath scheme — it had earlier been proposed as Tour of Duty — is expected to make the permanent force levels leaner in the over 13-lakh strong armed forces.
Under the scheme, most soldiers will leave the service in just four years. Of the 45,000 to 50,000 recruited annually, only 25 per cent will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission. This will considerably reduce the defence pension bill which has been a major concern of governments for many years.
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Recruitment will begin within 90 days which will bring “all India, all class” recruitment to the services. This is especially significant for the Army where the regiment system has region and caste bases, and with time that will be eliminated to allow anybody from any caste, region, class or religious background to become part of existing regiments.
Will cut salary and pension bill
The scheme will help cut the rising salary and pension bill of the armed forces. This has been a major worry for governments over the years.
Several veterans have raised concerns about how this new structure can be detrimental to the existing structure, where loyalty towards the regiment and battalion, and retaining their pride, play a significant role as a motivator in the harshest of circumstances.
Announcing the scheme, Rajnath Singh said “efforts are being made that the profile of the armed forces should be as youthful as the wider Indian population.” A youthful armed forces will allow them to be easily trained for new technologies.
He said 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. “This will also lead to availability of a higher-skilled workforce to the economy which will be helpful in productivity gain and overall GDP growth,” Singh said.
The average age in the forces is 32 years today, which will go down to 26 in six to seven years. It will create “future-ready” soldiers, said Lt Gen Anil Puri, Additional Secretary, Department of Military Affairs.
The government, in its statement, said the scheme “has been designed to enable a youthful profile of the Armed Forces. It will provide an opportunity to the youth who may be keen to don the uniform by attracting young talent from the society who are more in tune with contemporary technological trends and plough back skilled, disciplined and motivated manpower into the society.”
It said “it will enhance the youthful profile of the Armed Forces and provide a fresh lease of ‘Josh’ and ‘Jazba’ whilst at the same time bring about a transformational shift towards a more tech-savvy Armed Forces – which is indeed the need of the hour. It is envisaged that the average age profile of Indian Armed Forces would come down by about 4-5 years by implementation of the scheme.”
Under the new system, which is only for personnel below officer ranks (those who do not join the forces as commissioned officers), aspirants between the ages of 17.5 years and 21 years will be eligible to apply. The recruitment standards will remain the same, and recruitment will be done twice a year through rallies.
Once selected, the aspirants will go through training for six months and will then be deployed for three-and-a-half years. During this period, they will get a starting salary of Rs 30,000, along with additional benefits which will go up to Rs 40,000 by the end of the four-year service.
During this period, 30 per cent of their salary will be set aside under a Seva Nidhi programme, and the government will contribute an equal amount every month, and it will accrue interest. At the end of the four-year period, each soldier will get Rs 11.71 lakh as a lump sum amount, which will be tax-free. They will also get a Rs 48-lakh life insurance cover for four years. In case of death, the payout will be over Rs 1 crore, including pay for the unserved tenure.
After four years, only 25 per cent of the batch will be recruited back into their respective services, for a period of 15 years. For those who are re-selected, the initial four-year period will not be considered for retirement benefits.
Lt Gen Puri said the government will help rehabilitate soldiers who leave the services after four years. There will be a “whole of government” approach, and they will be provided with skill certificates and bridge courses. The impetus will be to create entrepreneurs, he said.
The announcement is likely to evoke a mixed response from tens of thousands of aspirants across the country. While there has not been any recruitment in the last two years, with the government attributing it to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Agnipath scheme has also been under consideration for nearly the same period. Although the announcement will kickstart the recruitment process, many aspirants will have to keep in mind the temporary structure, and the possibility of being asked to leave after four years.
According to data shared by the Ministry of Defence with Parliament on March 28, more than one lakh positions for junior commissioned officers and other ranks are vacant in the Army. It also noted that while more than 90 recruitment rallies were held each year in 2017, 2018 and 2019, only 47 recruitment rallies were held in 2020-2021, and just four in 2021-2022 due to the pandemic.
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