Agneepath scheme: Agneepath of military modernization, duration of four years and future prospects

Expansion

The central government has recently announced the launch of Agneepath, a scheme to induct around 45-50,000 youth into the armed forces for a period of four years. These soldiers will be called Agniveers. This is the vision of the Prime Minister’s Office and through that it is being carried forward. At the end of the four-year service period, the Agniveers will get a one-time lump-sum of around Rs 12 lakh, for which both they and the government will have to contribute equally. It is declared tax free. Of these, 25 percent of the jawans will get re-appointment in the army on a permanent basis.

Their previous service will not count and they will start afresh. The main intention behind changing the existing recruitment system to Agneepath is to reduce pension and salary expenditure, which has affected defense modernisation. All future recruitments under this scheme will be for only four years as against the present norm. Another reason given behind starting this is to give a chance to those who are willing to join the army for a short duration.

This cannot be entirely true, as the people aspiring to join as jawans want a secure life with pension. As pointed out by the Minister of State for Defense, the scheme will reduce the average age of the armed forces. This is true, as the scheme will reduce the average age from 32 to 26 over the next six years. Any new scheme launched by the government has its own merits and demerits. The benefits, apart from meeting the stated objectives, include creation of an additional pool of disciplined youth, who can be called upon to join forces in an emergency.

It has been assumed that individuals who join for a short period of time may not be effective soldiers, but this may be completely wrong. Those joining as Agniveers would be volunteers and not deputationists, as are the dedicated soldiers from China or Russia and any other country. Undoubtedly they will fight shoulder to shoulder with those already in the service. A major drawback of this scheme is the short service period, after which the youth will again face insecurity.

They will be left to push for re-employment after four years of regular, protected life experience. Their beliefs, perceptions and desires developed during this time will be destroyed. This fear will haunt them during service, which will have a negative impact on their functioning. For how long will they survive on the amount given to them by the government? The only thing they will have left with them is dreams, and the people they will work with.

Compare this to any other government service including the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFS) or state police forces. In these jobs they get pension under the National Pension Scheme, their job is secure for sixty years and their life is easier as compared to armed forces. In such a situation, the first choice of all the youth would be any other organization than the armed forces. Obviously, only those people who will be rejected from everywhere and harassed for employment, will try for this risky job of four years.

Other lapses mainly include lack of training for the technical cadre. Basic training in skilled areas is followed by long working hours. It takes years to master the task. At the end of four years, when the jawans do not even understand the nuances of the equipment, they will have to be ready to be taken out of service. This loss would be permanent for the organization and would affect the combat capability of the equipment. Till now the army alone used to recruit more than 50,000 annually for the entire pensionable service.

Under the present scheme, about 40-45,000 jawans will be recruited for a period of four years by combining the three services. Permanent recruitment is over. This pattern, which claims to be a game changer, has proved disappointing. Protests have started against this in many states including Bihar, which will spread further. Union Home Minister has announced that Agniveers will be given priority in CAPFS Recruitment. But priority does not guarantee a job.

The promises of help being made by the Ministry and Headquarters to provide them employment again will remain only promises. Forcing the youth to keep themselves away from it. If the scheme had really benefited and the government was confident that it would be successful, it should have started a pilot project, demonstrated its results and implemented it wholeheartedly. Perhaps there was a fear of failure and rational criticism in every field, due to which the government has tried to take it forward at every level by making half the information public.

The scheme may benefit the forces by reducing government spending, but it would be against those wishing to join the army. We must ask ourselves whether we will do any good by engaging the youth in the military for four years, which will be the best times of their lives, exploiting them, not fulfilling the promise of employing them, and eventually leaving them on their own. The decision has to be taken by the government itself.

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