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News: The government unveiled its new Agnipath scheme for recruiting soldiers across the three services.
• Under the new scheme, around 45,000 to 50,000 soldiers (will be called ‘Agniveers’) will be recruited annually (for a short period, and most will leave the service in just four years. Of the total annual recruits, only 25 per cent will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission.
Key Features of the Scheme:
• Aspirants between the ages of 17.5 years and 21 years will be eligible to apply. (Please note that amid widespread protests, the Union government has increased the upper age limit to 23 from 21 for recruitment under the scheme for the year 2022).
• The scheme is only applicable to personnel below officer ranks.
• Recruitment will be done twice a year through rallies. It will be done on ‘all India, all class’ recruitment to the services (from any caste, region, class or religious background). At present, recruitment is based on ‘regiment system’ based on region and caste bases.
• The training period will be of 6 months + deployment for three and a half years.
What are the benefits of the scheme?
The Scheme is both generous and attractive in terms of emoluments and pay-outs.
• Disciplined Human resources
• Upon release from service, the Agniveers will revert to civil society as holders of special qualifying certificate and become the backbone of a confident and disciplined human resources available across the country.
• Huge Corpus upon completion of service
• Apart from drawing a composite package of Rs.40,000 per month in the fourth year, they will each get Rs. 11.71 lakh through the Seva Nidhi package in which their contribution of 30% of monthly salary will be matched by an equal amount by the government.
• This sum will also be exempt from income tax, which will help them pursue their future dreams, in addition to individual savings.
• Social Security
• Life insurance cover of Rs. 48 Lakh, ex-gratia payment of Rs. 44 Lakh in case of death, and payment for the remainder of the four years of service in case of death, are huge plus points.
• Leaner and younger armed forces
• For India’s over 13-lakh strong armed forces, the current average age profile is 32 years. It is envisaged it will come down by about 4-5 years by implementation of this scheme.
• The Indian army in 1978 was more youthful than at present at the level of Other Ranks (ORs), with sepoys comprising 72.6 % of total men. Today, the number of sepoys has fallen below 40%.
• This is not desirable mix when it comes to physically strenuous deployments, especially on high- altitude areas.
• Check on Budgetary Constraints
• Ballooning salary and pension bills have placed enormous stress on the availability of funds for modernization.
• The emphasis of Agnipath in India is on ensuring a youthful and tech-savvy profile of the armed forces while reducing the overall burden on pensions and gratuities.
• Tech-savvy and future ready soldiers
• Contactless warfare in the digital era means that future wars will be fought with Artificial Intelligence, autonomous systems, stand-off weapons, cyberspace and spaced based ISR playing a key-role.
• The agniveers will inject additional skill sets into the armed forces, besides bringing down the average age by 4-5 years.
• Learning lessons from the West
• The Israeli army has service of 30 months and 22 months respectively for men and women, yet it enjoys a reputation for being among the best in the world.
• The US and UK also have shorter duration contracts.
• The training for Agniveers will be comparable to the time-frame in many world-class armed forces. The argument that shorter duration service could compromise on training, morale and commitment rings hollow.
What are the Challenges?
• As clear and persistent threat looms across our Northern borders and a hostile neighbor to the West, India’s military mind believe that the two-front danger is an increasingly real one. The main question about new policy is: Does it have a potential to create a better trained, more committed fighting force for India?
• All-India recruitment will require a massive organizational and cultural shift in the army. If we want to create new regimental cultures, sources of loyalty and discipline, we may need longer terms of service together rather than shorter ones.
• There is possible ramification on society as well. If the army experience is so fabulous that no civilian job after it matches up to its sense of purpose or working conditions, then we are potentially setting up a large numbers of young people to a life of frustration.
• The impact of changes such as hiring without the promise of lifelong benefits, the shortened training, and the opening out of regiments to AIAC can only be assessed in the coming years.
• The most important aspect is to help Agniveers beyond their service tenure. The recent announcement of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) which has decided to reserve 10% vacancies for recruitment in CAPFs and Assam Rifles for Agniveers is a welcome step. More such steps need to be taken by various state governments as well to give opportunity in their State police services.
• No reform can be fool-proof and without teething troubles. But as Agnipath concerns national defence and security, the government will need to have a plan to anticipate and address the problems that lie beyond the bold step forward.