On June 14, 2022, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh announced the transformative and ambitious Agneepath scheme for recruitment and preliminary service for ‘personnel below officer rank’ in the Army, in the presence of three service chiefs.
The scheme intends to drastically cut the salary bill of the Army along with the rising pension bill, in an effort to save money to equip and modernize the Indian Army. A few days later, as soon as the details of the scheme became public, protests and riots broke out by youth in different parts of the country as they felt that their employment prospects and related economic security had suffered a major blow as a result. Plan.
Welcome to the 17th episode of ‘Call of Duty’, our program on strategic and defense matters. In the last episode, we talked about how the Chinese assertiveness was still going on at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Our foreign minister highlighted this aspect at the town hall last week when he said, “India will not allow any unilateral attempt by China to change the LAC.” To ensure this, a large number of troops have been deployed along the LAC in the last two years. It is worth noting that the recruitment in the army has been stalled for the last two years due to Kovid-19. Because of this the force already has major shortcomings.
Against this backdrop, will the Agneepath plan actively strengthen the Indian Army or will it be a dangerous double whammy – adversely affecting both the quality and quantity of the force. That is the question we will be addressing today. I hope you find this episode informative and interesting.
The personnel of the Indian Army and their leadership, renowned for their high standards of training, experience and motivation, employ modern equipment and technology, to fight and win wars for our country. The threats we face primarily stem from our northern adversary, which continues to modernize its military in terms of new strategies, structures, technology, and equipment. On the other hand, our Western adversary, fueled by its strong alliance with the East, continues to fish the troubled waters in India’s northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, prompting punitive retaliation by India.
In short, we need a strong and modern army, navy and air force, actively prepared and capable of defeating and defeating our adversaries alone, or when they fight in tandem with each other.
The questions before us are: Will the Agneepath scheme help our army meet such an operational requirement? Will the army of the future be an operationally better army than it is today?
Before we go any further, let us take a closer look at the Agneepath scheme.
The new scheme involves recruiting youth in the age group of 17 साढ़े to 21 years as soldiers, sailors and airmen on a short service contract for a period of four years, with an initial training period of six months. They will be given the rank of Agniveer below a sepoy, and will be paid initially around thirty thousand rupees per month and thereafter with annual increments.
After four years, 25 percent of firefighters selected on the basis of merit will be placed in their units, provided with trade specific training, and allowed to serve for a minimum pensionable service period of 15 years or more. The remaining 75 per cent amount will be released with severance payment of around Rs 11.7 lakh, which will be 30 per cent of the monthly salary of the individual plus equal contribution by the government and interest earned thereon. They will not be entitled to any pension and other benefits.
Some other pertinent facts are that, firstly, the six months of institutional training that would be provided to Agniveers at the beginning of their four years of service, would essentially be basic infantry training. As such, they will not be provided with institutional technical training related to their trade, for example, gunner, driver or radio operator, as it exists in military combat arms or combat support weapons. This means that all other training provided to Agniveer will be ‘on the job’ training in his unit and not institutional training. There will be no parallel scheme for recruitment of soldiers on permanent basis as before.
Secondly, firefighters will be recruited on an all India all class basis and even those deployed in single class units will be of ‘All India all class profile’ and not ‘single class’ profile. It should be seen in the context that at present there are a significant number of single class units in the combat armament of the Army.
And as mentioned earlier, the implementation of the Agneepath plan will go along with a separate ‘adaptation plan’ – which aims to reduce the strength of our army, especially the army by about 15 per cent (about 2 lakh) by the end. To do. of the next five years.
So, let us now have a look at the positive aspects of this scheme:
pension savings bill: Firstly, undoubtedly, there will be a huge saving of the pension bill, in that only 25 per cent of those recruited each year will be eligible for pension, instead of the 100 per cent who were eligible so far- so forth.
saving on salary bill: Second, a collateral advantage is that there will also be substantial savings on the wage bill, considering the number of military personnel planning to reduce concurrently through the adaptation plan.
low age profile: Third, the age profile of the Army will be reduced. It is said that the average age will be reduced from 32 years to 26 years, making the army more youthful and energetic.
decreased level of motivationThe greatest challenge will be the qualitative reduction in the capabilities of the young soldier, who remains at the cutting edge of military operations, at the platoon or military level. It is a controversial issue whether it would be possible for a soldier, especially one who is insecure about his employment status, to assimilate the regiment and associated motivation at the desired operational levels, which would give him respect for his lifeline. But puts ‘flag’ and the country.
drop in training standardsIn addition, lack or dilution of institutional technical trade training will result in inadequacies in training standards and confidence levels among firefighters in heavy weapons equipment such as Armored Corps, Mechanized Infantry, Artillery, Engineers, Signal and Air Defence. For example, in armored corps and mechanized infantry, dual trade and reserve crew competencies would be severely affected during the early years. There will be a similar problem in the Air Force and Navy.
quantitative reduction: Another major challenge will be the quantitative reduction of force, which is being attempted simultaneously. It is said that quantity has a quality of its own. This is more so when the quality is lacking. Thus, it is incomprehensible why the government is implementing a plan to reportedly reduce the strength of the force by about 15 per cent over the next four years.
The question is whether quality and quantity reduction should be a double whammy at a time when we are facing dire prospects of a war on China. Also, the Army has not finalized the new operational concepts, which were being tested, due to delays due to the COVID problem. Clearly, the adaptation plan should have been put on hold for implementation only after studying the impact of the roll-out of the Agneepath scheme over a period of four to five years.
high levels of insecurityThe fourth challenge will be to address job insecurity and uncertainty – by convincing firefighters that, if they are part of the 75 percent who are not placed in service, they will be provided with alternative employment. Only a guarantee would provide the necessary degree of assurance in some form or the other, given that in the past various agencies giving assurances to short service officers have been found to be lacking during the actual implementation of these promises. Without guarantees, potential firefighters would be skeptical of such assurances. For this, the government should also set up an Agniveer placement agency while implementing the scheme. Further, it may not be a bad idea to increase the retention level of Agniveers to 50 per cent to overcome the problem of uncertainty and insecurity and to prolong their tenure so that they can bring in better quality.
Implementing AIAC Profile: The fifth challenge will be the disruptive instability in single class units, of which there are currently a large number of combat forces, due to plans to convert them into pan-India class units. Attempts at such changes have not worked well in the past. Will they do this in the future? Why even such an objective had to be mixed with the Agneepath scheme, which has its own challenges of implementation?
decreased playing abilityChallenge Sixth: The plan will have an adverse effect on the Army’s ability to produce world class players like Olympic gold medalist Neeraj Chopra.
The Agneepath plan must be made to work, given that if it succeeds, it will lay the foundation for further transformation of the force. Clearly, this should result in increased operational efficiencies, rather than questioning that. To that end, the plan may need some major changes to be successful.
The recommendations in this regard are:
high quality of soldiers, First, it must be ensured that the quality of our soldiers, sailors and airmen is not adversely affected by this scheme. To that extent, it may be a good idea to select the best 25 percentile, at the recruitment stage, to join the army permanently. The remaining 75 per cent should be covered under the Agneepath (short service) scheme for seven years, after which a third should be placed for permanent service based on merit. This way, in the end, about 50 per cent of the original batch will be retained and the rest will be released with a better severance package.
assured alternative employment, Second, firefighters who are not laid off must be guaranteed by the government that they will be provided with an alternative job upon release. To ensure this, an inter-departmental ‘Agniveer Placement Agency’ should be set up.
delay quantitative optimization, Third, the implementation of the ‘adaptation plan’, which is a separate scheme to reduce the overall numbers in the military and result in savings on the wage bill – must be delayed. To that extent, additional recruitments should be done immediately to fill the vacancies during the post-Covid period in a phased manner.
Delay Scheme for Change in AIAC Profile, Fourth, plans to change the class structure of single class units should also be delayed. Unless the implementation of Agneepath scheme is stable, it should not be implemented.
Extend Short Service Tenure, Fifth, the tenure of Agniveers should be increased to seven years. Also, institutional training in technical or ‘heavy equipment’ services and branches should be extended to one year to include six months of technical training.
include sports quota recruitment, Last, but not least, the existing system of identifying medal winning potential and special recruitment of players should be retained.
In short, the Agneepath scheme of introducing short service conditions for enlisted personnel should not completely replace the current system of recruitment. Rather, it should be a complementary scheme, involving only 75 per cent of the force. Of these, one-third should be retained regularly after an initial period of seven years on merit. Only then will it be a profitable deal for the country, the army and its youth.