EXTRA LENS: Centre facing flack over Agnipath scheme; Let's unwind the controversial recruitment plan
After the launch of this scheme, a great section of the armed forces criticized it by saying that will hit the professionalism, ethos, and fighting spirit of the armed forces...Author : Guneet kaur
What's going on?
Protests have broken out against the Indian Government's Agnipath scheme - a radical recruitment plan for the armed services. The opposition has claimed Centre's "transformative" scheme reduces the operational effectiveness of India’s armed forces.
Modi government "must stop compromising the dignity, traditions, valour & discipline of our forces,” says Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Protests have turned violent in several parts of the country, including Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.
But what is the Agnipath scheme? How does it affect the recruitment system? And, why are army aspirants across India are protesting?
Let's dive in
All about the Agnipath scheme
On June 14, the government unveiled its new Agnipath scheme for recruiting soldiers across all three services. The new defence recruitment reform, approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security, will take effect immediately. The soldiers recruited under the plan will be known as 'Agniveers'.
This scheme entails a recruitment process for people below the rank of officer. The new recruitment plan aims at deploying fitter and younger troops on the front lines, many of whom will be on four-year contracts.
Key features of the scheme
- Opportunity to serve the country as Agniveers
- Merit-based recruiting across India
- A four-year contract
- Attractive monthly remuneration and a handsome "Seva Nidhi" package
- 25% of Agniveers will be enrolled in the regular Armed Forces cadre based on merit and organisational requirements
Under the Agnipath scheme, both men and women between the ages of 17.5 and 23 will be inducted into the armed forces. Earlier, the upper age limit was 21, which was raised amid nationwide protests on June 16. The government decided to raise the age limit as no recruitment took place in the last 2 years.
All 3 services will be enlisted through a centralised online system, with rallies and campus interviews held by accredited technical colleges such as Industrial Training Institutes and the National Skills Qualifications Framework, among others.
Enrollment will be done on an 'All India, All Class' basis. Agniveers will meet the medical requirements for induction in the armed services as they apply to their particular categories/trades. The educational qualifications of Agniveers will continue to be popular for enrolment in a variety of categories, like - a Class 10 education is required to become a General Duty (GD) soldier.
- Is there any reservation for women applying for Agnipath Entry?
Girls under the age limit are eligible for Agnipath, however, there is no such reservation for women in this scheme.
- What would be the salary package and other benefits given under the scheme?
Agniveers will receive a monthly package that is tailored to their needs, as well as Risk and Hardship allowances for each of the three services. Agniveers will also be paid a one-time 'SevaNidhi' package at the end of the four-year engagement term, which will include their contribution plus accrued interest, as well as a matching contribution from the government equivalent to the accumulated amount of their contribution plus the interest.
In the 1st year of service, Agniveers will be given Rs 30,000 per month. But, they will receive only Rs 21,000 as 30% or Rs 9,000 of their remuneration will be their contribution to Agniveer Corpus Fund.
In 2nd year, the personnel will get Rs 33,000; Rs 36,500 in the third year and Rs 40,000 in the fourth year. After 4-year service, they will get Rs 11.71 lakh as Seva Nidhi Package.
The 'Seva Nidhi' will be income tax-free. There will be no entitlement to benefits such as gratuities or pensions. For the term of their engagement in the Indian Armed Forces, Agniveers would be supplied with a non-contributory Life Insurance Coverage of Rs 48 lakh.
- When will Agnipath recruitment commence?
The first Agnipath entry rally will take place in September-October 2022.
- What are the terms of service?
After a 4-year of service, 25% of the Agniveers will be retained in the regular cadre purely on merit, willingness and medical fitness, who will then serve for a full term of another 15 years.
The other 75% of Agniveers will be demobilised with a “Seva Nidhi '' package, partly funded by their monthly contributions. Apart from this, skill certificates and bank loans will also be provided for help in their second careers.
Why are Army aspirants protesting?
Army aspirants across India are mainly protesting against the four-year service provision of the scheme. The protesters believe neither job seekers nor the country will benefit from the new recruitment plan.
The major issue in the 'Agneepath Yojana' is that after four years, 75 percent of the youth will have to be out.
According to protesters, a youth who becomes an Agniveer at 17.5 years will neither have any professional degree nor any special qualifications; thus, he will be bound to take up second-class jobs.
Their primary fear is that they will not be able to perform effectively for the four years allotted to them and that after that time, they would be out of work again. That too without a pension or other retirement benefits.
Aspirants further claim that the scheme is a sham that does little to create jobs or opportunities.
Young people planning to join the army say they work hard and have been preparing for many years. They will not accept four-year employment in such a situation. The youths who are protesting have asked the government to suspend the scheme right away.
The saga of protests and violence
Violent protests have broken out across the country. People in Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh hit the streets. Many protesters pelted stones at the residence and several police vehicles were torched.
Several roadways buses were damaged in stone-pelting and roads and National Highways were also blocked. Following this, police had to use tear gas shells and fire air shots to control the mob.
Army aspirants in Bihar, Rajasthan and Gurugram disrupted rail and road traffic seeking reinstatement of the previous recruitment system, while Sikar and Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan also witnessed protests.
What do the protesters want?
Protesting aspirants allege that if the Tour of Duty (TOD) programme is applied in the armed services, it would be a major setback for lakhs of over-aged aspirants who have been waiting for recruitment for the past two years. Not only this, but the new plan will also put troops in a bind if they retire at the age of merely 24-25.
Protesters are now demanding that the recruitment process be reinstated and that the new scheme be cancelled.
Students are also concerned that the Agnipath will be used to eliminate constitutionally mandated reservation benefits, akin to contractual hiring in railways and lateral entry in other government ministries.
A different perspective
The military's new Tour of Duty recruitment scheme, now known as 'Agnipath,' has been in the works for more than two years. The proposal, which was touted as "transformative" and "historic," has been met with widespread criticism from Army applicants, experts, and even many military officers.
According to critics, regardless of what was said at the presser following the scheme's launch, the main goal of the new recruitment policy is to keep the military's pension budget from ballooning further.
The issue has been brewing for decades. Pensions accounted for 19 percent of the defence budget in 2012-13, rising to 26 percent in 2019-20. As a result, year after year, the budget allocation for capital expenditure falls short of the armed forces' resource projections.
The Agnipath scheme will result in a considerably leaner military and significant savings in pensions and other lifelong benefits, which consume a large portion of the defence budget.
This was perhaps one of the most important motivators for the new policy.
Notably, the Rs 5,25,166 crore defence budget for 2022-23 includes Rs 1,19,696 crore for defence pensions. The revenue expenditure allocation was Rs 2,33,000 crore. The revenue expenditure includes expenses for salary payment and establishment maintenance.
What does it mean to you?
Unemployment in the country is on the rise.
With the new armed forces recruitment plan, the government intends to hire 46,000 "agniveer" this year. However, due to the age limits, the recruitment may exclude those who have been waiting for the hiring freeze to end since 2020.
Over the last two years, more than a lakh vacancies have accumulated in the Indian Army alone, but under the new policy, not all may be filled. A major disappointment to a significant number of youths!
Moreover, with a clear and present threat on its northern border and a hostile neighbour to its west, India's military leaders feel a two-front threat is becoming more real. The major question about the new policy is whether it has the ability to produce a better-trained, more committed combat force for India.
Additionally, the scheme would not do justice to the personnel who are recruited through it. The extent to which the economy will absorb or welcome the ex-Agniveer will be determined by their skill set and the training they get. Especially as meaningful employment opportunities continue to elude a growing percentage of graduates.
It is high time that government devises a strategy to create genuine job opportunities, rather than creating a sham in the name of employment. Because "The final solution for unemployment is work," says Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States.