Agnipath: Will it Prove a Military Transformation Scheme?

On June 15, 2022 The Narendra Modi government introduced the new recruitment initiative for the armed forces. Defence Minister of India, Rajnath Singh and the three service chiefs announced the new soldier recruitment scheme. Under this scheme armed forces recruits can serve for a four-year-period followed by compulsory retirement for 75 percent soldiers recruited under Agnipath without gratuity and pension benefits.The new scheme for the recruitment of soldiers in the Army, Navy and Air Force is projected by the government as a major overhaul of the decades-old selection process to enhance the youthful profile of the three services. The soldiers who are recruited under the 'Agnipath' scheme will be known as 'Agniveers'. Under the scheme, the Army is likely to recruit around 40,000 soldiers, the Navy is expected to induct around 3,000 sailors and the IAF is set to recruit 3,000 airmen in the year 2022.

However, within two days of announcement of the Agnipath Yojana for military recruitment, wide spread violent protests due to the concerns raised by prospective soldiers erupted across the country resulting in burning of buses and trains, damage to other public property.

 

An important GD topic for MBA admission 2023, Recruitment in various services and other academic courses, the background of launching Agnipath, its key highlights, reasons for protests, benefits and criticisms should be understood well, before framing your opinion on the topic:

 

Agnipath Scheme: Background and Need for Launch
There has been no recruitment conducted for Army Since 2019 due to Covid-19 pandemic. However, during last three years, more than 150,000 soldiers have retired as 50000 to 60000 defence personnel retire every year. This has created massive manpower shortage in defence forces and is adversely affecting the operational capabilities of the Army.

  

As in June 2022, there are over 73,000 vacant positions in five wings of the paramilitary forces - Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Shasastra Seema Bal (SSB), and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).

 

According to Union Home Ministry data, 73,219 posts are vacant in CAPFs and Assam Rifles alone. CAPF, with a strength of 10-lakh-personnel is one of the largest employment generating forces under the home ministry. Apart from this 18,124 posts are also vacant in police forces in Union Territories. To fill all these vacancies, especially below the rank of commissioned officers, the need for massive recruitment drive was felt and as such the innovative ‘Agnipath’ scheme for soldier recruitment has been announced. 

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 Agnipath Scheme: Eligibility & Key Highlights
The Agnipath scheme is a PAN India merit based recruitment scheme under which sailors, airmen, and soldiers will be recruited to serve Army, Air Force and Navy. The age limit and academic eligibility criteria for soldier recruitment under Agnipath scheme for the year 2022 and 2023 is different as shared below:

 

Eligibility for Recruitment 2022

  • A relaxation of 2 years in upper age limit is given for recruitment 2022 as during last 2 years no recruitment was done due to Covid
  • Both Male and Female candidates are eligible to apply
  • Youths between the ages of 17½ - and 23 years are eligible for recruitment 2022
  • Candidates who have completed their 10th and 12th class education can apply for the Agnipath scheme.
  • The recruited candidates will be known as Agniveers
  • Agniveers will serve the defence forces for a period of four years.

Eligibility for Recruitment 2023

  • Both Male & Female candidates can apply
  • Youths between the ages of 17½ - and 21 years are eligible for recruitment 2022
  • Candidates who have completed their 10th and 12th class education can apply for the Agnipath scheme.
  • The recruited candidates will be known as Agniveers
  • Agniveers will serve the defence forces for a period of four years.

Agnipath-Key Highlights

  • The Agnipath scheme, as approved by Government of India, will be implemented from September 2022.
  • The recruitment scheme is for both male and female aspirants
  • The recruitment through this scheme would be for Indian Army, Navy and Airforce
  • The Recruitment process will take place twice a year.
  • The posts available under Agnipath are below the officer cadre.
  • Agnipath Scheme will be the only route to serve in the military in Non Commissioned cadre
  • The recruits named Agniveers will serve as for a tenure of four years that includes training for six months followed by 3.5 years deployment
  • A pay package of Rs. 4.76 lacs per annum in the first year will be given. This will go upto Rs.6.92 lacs per annum by the end of the 4th year
  • The recruits will get an amount of Rs.11.71 lakhs after four years of service. Agniveers will bear 30% of the emolument share as contribution toward corpus fund while same amount will be contributed by the Government making it a total amount of about Rs. 11.71 lacs after 4 years. This will be exempted from income tax
  • Personnel who retire after 4 years of service will not be eligible for pension scheme of the Indian Army.[
  • Every year, the Indian government plans to recruit 45,000 to 50,000 personnel through this scheme.
  • 10 per cent reservation for 'Agniveers' will be offered in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and Assam Rifles.Three years' age relaxation will be given beyond the prescribed upper age limit to Agniveers for recruitment in these two paramilitary forces while the first batch of Agniveer will get age relaxation of five years beyond the prescribed upper age limit

NIOS Offers Higher Education and Learning Under Agnipath scheme

  • The special course by NIOS under Agnipath scheme is for Agniveers who have passed their 10th class examinations and wish to complete their 12th class education.  
  • NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) along with defence authorities has come up with a special course for Agniveers that will enable them to obtain a class 12 certificate. This special course has been designed keeping in consideration the area of service of Agniveers. The Agnipath scheme by NIOS for Agniveers will not only provide them with sufficient academic qualification but they will be also able to play a productive role in the society.
  • The open schooling system (NIOS) is extremely user-friendly and can be accessed from anywhere, anytime. Therefore, the Agniveers will face no difficluty while going through this special program.
  • The scheme comes under Agnipath Yojana, an initiative that was undertaken considering the educational needs and career opportunities of Agniveers.
  • Before the Agnipath Scheme, the Ministry of Education has also announced a three year (skill-based) bachelor degree course for Agniveers through IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University).

Agnipath Scheme 2022: NIOS Special Course Benefits
The NIOS special course for Agniveers will benefit them in different ways including self-learning, certification, evaluation, personal contact program among others. Some of the key  benefits of the NIOS Agnipath scheme for Agniveers are:

  1. It is a customised plan, therefore the Agniveers will learn according to their needs and capabilities (relevent to their areas of service).
  2. The NIOS special course under the Agnipath scheme will enable Agniveers to enhance their skills and capabilities.
  3. Agniveers will be able to pursue higher education jobs through the Agnipath scheme.
  4. A certificate will be provided to the Agniveers for going through this special course by NIOS. This will enable them to opt for higher education as well as apply for jobs.

Army, Navy, Air Force start Agneepath recruitment process in June 2022

  • Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said the selection process by the Indian Air Force for recruitment under the new scheme starts from June 24 while the Army is beginning the exercise from June 20.
  • Indian Navy is starting the recruitment process in June last week
  • The three services are planning to deploy the first batches of recruits under the new scheme both in operational and non-operational roles by June 2023.

Skill Development Under Agnipath Scheme
Building the foundation, various key areas of skill development have been identified for Agniveers. These are

  • Aviation, shipping and automotive-related skilling courses
  • Drone technology and management courses, armoured vehicles management, submarine and shipping industry courses
  • The Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has alerted its relevant Sector Skills Council to help develop Agniveer-specific courses.
  • The skills Agniveers acquire in service will be given academic credits

Employment Options for Agniveers after 4 Years

  • After completion of 4 years in service as Agniveer under Agnipath scheme, a wide range of employment options will be available for the soldiers:
  • After retirement from the service, Agniveers will have opportunity to apply voluntarily to continue in the armed forces
  • Upto 25 percent of Agniveers from among the applicant recruits will be selected for the regular cadre through centralised screening assessment on the basis of merit and demonstrated performance in the four years with the regular cadre retaining fixed pay scale and pension benefits in accordance with the extant regulations applicable to the regular cadre
  • Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari said that Agniveers have 2-3 options. These are ( 1 ) They can compete & re-enroll in IAF for a service that will grant them pension; (2) In case they leave, decide to pursue higher education or setup entrepreneurship, they can set up on their own or can be assured of jobs in public, govt or pvt sector as they will get preference and age relaxation
  • The government also plans to have a centralised database on the Agniveers to keep track of the skills that they would acquire during their four-year tenure.

Agnipath: Why the Scheme is Criticised and Face Protests?

  • A key criticism of the scheme is that before the introduction of the new scheme for recruitment, the Union Government did not produce any white paper. The scheme was not debated in the parliament
  • No information about the scheme was given to the public prior to its announcement on 15 June. This scheme will bypass many things including long tenures, pension and other benefits which were there in old system.
  • On 16 June 2022, a day after the announcement of the scheme, violent protests erupted in several states in India where the army aspirants angry with the new scheme called for its rollback and damaged public property. By 17 June, 12 trains were set on fire, and the movement of 300 trains were affected. 214 trains were cancelled, 11 trains were diverted and 90 were terminated short of their destination.  A 19 year old protestor was shot dead in Telangana. Internet was shut down in 12 districts of Bihar
  • Many defence experts are of the view that incentive to serve on the border, risking life and limb would be much lower if the soldier knew he would be out in four years.
  • Army aspirants are unhappy with the rules of the new scheme as it has short length of service, no pension provisions for those released early and the age limit restriction because of which many of the current aspirants were rendered ineligible to serve in the Indian armed forces.
  • Opposition parties in India have asked the scheme to be put on hold and that the scheme be discussed in the Parliament and have stated that "the 'Agnipath' scheme does disservice to India’s national interests. Professional armed forces cannot be raised by recruiting ‘soldiers on contract’ for a period of four years.
  • The scheme, to save pension money, severely compromises the quality and efficiency of  professional armed forces. In their view the people returning after four years of service would cause gang wars in the country.
  • Congress party called the scheme neither in the interest of the country nor its security, and has asked for a rollback of the scheme.
  • Protesters feel that under the new scheme, their future is insecure. They want to work for a full 15 years as per the existing system because it guarantees higher salaries and chances to get promoted to senior level with pensionary benefits.
  • While the recruited Agniveers will be paid a lump sum of Rs 11.5 lakh after the completion of the four years of service, they will receive no pensionary benefits or gratuity. Pensions in the new scheme are unlike the previous
    system. Earlier, the troops joined for a 17-year period, which could be extended for some personnel. This resulted in a lifelong pension.
  • Protestors also feel that there will be no employment guarantee post the four years of training, only skill training.
  • Protestors think the opportunities will decrease as a result of 'Agnipath'. Some of them demanded the government to give 'Agniveers' 20-30 per cent reservation in other jobs once they are out of service after four years under the 'Agnipath' scheme 
  • Some military veterans have also slammed the scheme saying it will adversely impact the functioning of the armed forces
  • Protesters are disappointed as many of them had taken the written examination which they had cleared but had been unable to clear the physical exam because the government had suspended recruitment rallies.
  • Many of the Army aspirants had crossed the age of recruitment because the government had suspended recruitment rallies and said that they felt cheated as they would henceforth be able to join the forces for just four years.

Agnipath: Not a New Idea; Tested Scheme in Many Countries
On the criticism that the short-duration tenure of 'Agniveers' will harm the effectiveness of the armed forces, the officials said such a system exists in several countries, and hence, it is already tested out and considered best practice for an agile army.

Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari said, “the domains of warfare are changing, we need younger, more tech-savvy people in the services. For the IAF in particular, we will benefit from having to select the more technically qualified people for their particular job that they are going to do in future in the Air Force.”

 

Army Chief Manoj Pandey said that emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing robotics and hypersonics are no longer confined to theories but are physically manifesting in battlefields. Accordingly, transformational reforms are underway in the armed forces in the human resources management and other domains such as capability development with focus on 'Atmanirbharta'

 

As violent protests raged in multiple states, the government issued a clarification, asserting that the new model will not only bring in fresh capabilities to the armed forces but also open up avenues for youth in the private sector and help them become entrepreneurs with the aid of the good package they will be entitled to on retirement.

 

Several in the government defended the scheme. Tarkishore Prasad, Bihar’s BJP deputy chief minister, said: “I don't think our youth understood the scheme properly or are confused." He also said both the state and the Centre are serious about their induction into the scheme.

 

The Ministry of Defence clears ‘myths’ about the scheme by clarifying the doubts of the veterans that caste-based regiments that pride themselves for their martial traditions like the Gorkha, Jat, Sikh, Rajput, and Madras regiments would cease to exist as the Army would transition into an all-class one; and emphasized that four years were enough to provide adequate levels of training to turn boys/girls into soldiers. 

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