The Agnipath scheme, announced on Tuesday, seeks to recruit soldiers in the Army, Navy and the Air Force on a short-term contract of four years. The central government says the scheme aims to bring down the average age of personnel and reduce pension expenditure.
However, several defence aspirants, military veterans and opposition leaders have raised reservations over the revamped process. They say that the new scheme can potentially affect the future of serving personnel, hit the professionalism, ethos and fighting spirit of the forces and possibly lead to militarisation of civil society.
Here are all the FAQs, answered …
What exactly is the Agnipath scheme?
The Agnipath scheme provides for the recruitment of all Army, Navy and IAF personnel (except officers) for a period of four years. The youngsters recruited under the scheme will be called “Agniveers“, who will be in the age group of 17.5 to 21 years and receive a monthly salary of Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000.
After the completion of four years, nearly 25% of the Agniveers will be selected for regular cadre for a full term of another 15 years while the remaining 75% will be demobilized with an exit package called “Seva Nidhi”. The package will be worth Rs 11.71 lakh and include a skill certificate. But there will be no pension or gratuity.
What are the government’s near-term and long-term aims?
The government aims to recruit as many as 46,000 soldiers (including sailors and airmen) on an “all-India, all-class” basis within 90 days. This will make up around 3 per cent of the armed forces.
After recruitment, the performance of the Agniveers will be tested before re-induction in the Army after four years. This way, the Army will get tested and tried personnel for supervisory ranks, officials said.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh said that the scheme will usher in a more youthful profile in the over 14-lakh strong armed forces, with the average age of soldiers gradually being brought down from the existing 32 to 24-26. He said it will also make the forces more modern, tech-savvy and well-equipped to deal with the myriad challenges ahead.
Lt-General BS Raju said that Agniveers will constitute nearly half of the 12-lakh strong Army by 2030-2032 to achieve an optimal balance of youth and experience to fight wars of the future.
The Agnipath scheme will also be “progressively opened” for women based on service requirements.
But why are there apprehensions about the scheme?
There are widespread concerns that the radical scheme to recruit the bulk of soldiers for only four years will hit the professionalism, regimental ethos and fighting spirit of the Army. It is also feared it will lead to militarisation of society with over 35,000 combat-trained youth being rendered jobless every year.
Critics also argue the scheme will leave many Agniveers risk-averse with a bulk of them looking for a second career.
“It will lead to militarisation of society… It’s not a good idea,” former DGMO Lt-General Vinod Bhatia (retd) said after the government unveiled the scheme.
Several opposition leaders such as Congress’s Rahul Gandhi, SP’s Akhilesh Yadav and AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal have also hit out at the scheme, saying that it can potentially jeopardize the future of countless youths.
What do the protesters want?
Thousands of youngsters, who are staging protests in parts of Bihar, UP and Haryana, are demanding an immediate rollback of the scheme.
Opposition leaders have also voiced support for the protests and are demanding that the government scrap the scheme.
What has the government said?
With the protests gaining momentum across states, the government issued a detailed clarification by issuing a “myths vs facts” document to allay the concerns of protesters.
Here’s how the government responded to the various concerns voiced by the aspirants …
On short-term tenure
The government said that those wishing to be entrepreneurs after their service as Agniveers will get a financial package and bank loan scheme. Those wishing to study further will be given a 12th class equivalent certificate and a bridging course for further studies, and those who want salaried jobs will be given priority in Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and state police. It added that several avenues are also being opened up for them in other sectors.
On changes in regimental system
There were apprehensions that the ‘Agnipath’ scheme would change the composition of several regiments that recruit youths from specific regions as well as castes such as Rajputs, Jats and Sikhs.
The government clarified that no change is being done to the regimental system. “In fact, it will be further accentuated because the best of ‘Agniveers’ will be selected, further boosting the cohesiveness of the units,” an official said.
On the scheme harming effectiveness of forces
The government rejected fears that the new scheme will affect the effectiveness of the armed forces, saying that the number of Agniveers to be recruited in the first year would only make up 3 per cent of the total strength.
“Additionally, the performance of the Agniveers will be tested before re-induction in the army after four years. Hence, Army will get tested and tried personnel for supervisory ranks,” it said.
The government also pointed out that such a short-term enlistment system exists in most countries and hence is already tested out and considered best practice for a youthful and agile army.
Separately, officials said most armies across the world depend upon their youths and the new scheme will only bring about a right mix of “50 per cent of youth and 50 per cent of experience” in the long run in the supervisory ranks.
How other countries have adopted this model?
Several variations of the Agnipath scheme, or the “Tour of Duty” model”, exist in other countries.
The government said that while formulating the recruitment structure, the model of countries like Israel, US, China, France, Russia, UK and Germany was studied. The features were then modified and adapted as per the needs and requirements of the Indian armed forces.
In US, most personnel enrol for four years, which is followed by a four-year reserve duty period. Soldiers can also opt for full service and are eligible for pensions and benefits after serving for 20 years.
In China, recruitment is done on a conscription model (compulsory enrollment) with 4.5 lakh conscripts inducted for training each year. Conscripts must serve for two years.
Israel also follows a conscription system.
Russia follows a hybrid model of conscription and contractual service. Conscripts are given a year of training followed by a year of service and then put on reserve. Recruitment is done from these conscripts. Soldiers are given preferential admission to colleges and have the option of undertaking education at military institutions.
France recruits soldiers on a contractual basis under several models – from one-year renewable contracts to five-year contracts.
(With inputs from agencies)