Agnipath Conundrum

VK Bahuguna

June 21, 2022, 04:35:28   

Agnipath Conundrum

Even before a whiff of planning the implementation could be heard of, the government of India’s just announced ‘Agnipath’ scheme for recruitment of youth in the three defence forces viz. Army, Air Force and Navy has exploded and engulfing the nation into violent agitation. The scheme ‘a tour of duty’ usually is a period of time spent by soldiers in combat or in a hostile environment. This scheme precisely provides this opportunity to the patriotic and motivated youth to serve the defence forces. Many countries of the world allow their citizens to serve for a few years in the army which brings a feeling of nationalistic fervour among the youths and also create reserve combatants at the time of emergency. In India the government allows 10-year service with an option of a 4-year extension as commissioned officers level through short service commission. Previously during 1948, 1962 and 1965 officers were recruited under Emergency Commission to meet the shortage. The Agnipath scheme is a similar scheme for the non officer cadre with the difference that it would be the only way to enter three Indian defence forces. If implemented properly based on merit and transparency, it is one of the most forward looking revolutionary step taken by the government of India post independence to modernize the defence forces under which every India citizen will have equal right to enter the defence services and serve the nation to protect its territorial integrity. The scheme will make Indian military young (average age of soldier is 32 now will be reduced to 26 year in due course) and also reduce other expenditures which can be diverted to modernize and make them technologically equipped to fight modern wars and at the same time promote the culture of young people joining forces for a short term to serve the nation. 

The Agnipath scheme as announced by the Defence Minister is open for the Male and Female Indian citizens in the age group of 17 to 21 (now upper age increased to 23) who have either passed class 10th or 12th. It envisages a monthly salary of Rs 30,000, an Insurance cover of 44 lakh in a contractual tenure of 4 years and a payment of Rs 11.71 lakh at the end of 4 year period (in this the Agniveer will contribute Rs 9000 every month from his salary of Rs 30,000) and other facilities available for the soldiers during his or her service period. At the end of the 4 year period the Agniveer can either start a new enterprise of his own or he can get preference in Central or State Police and Para Military forces and other departments. It is expected that it will open the door for 46,000 youth to enter the Indian defence forces after a gap of two years when due to Covid-19 pandemic recruitments were stopped. The process is going to be soon started.

Now the question is why the scheme is getting politicized and youth is on road and indulging in violence and arson. These days it has become a rule for the political parties to fan out agitation and oppose decisions of the Modi government as if an anti-national government is ruling the country. Such protests cause immense hardship for the people and Judiciary does not come forward to stop inconvenience to the common people. How is it justified to burn government property like Railways and buses and create law and order problem. 
The government to certain extent must share the blame. Howsoever, good a scheme is, it must be introduced after wider consultations with the stakeholders specially based on the experience on farmers laws which was an excellent step but had to be rolled back by the Prime Minister. For the Agnipath scheme the Ministry of Defence should have invited public comments and then announced it rather than the government now saying 10 % vacancies in Central Police organizations will be reserved for Agniveers and also increased the upper age to 23. A few elements backed by political leaders are waiting to encash on such opportunities to force the roll back like the farmers Acts.

As a student of resource management this writer would like to suggest the Prime Minister and Defence Minister that the concept of Agnipath is definitely a revolutionary step which needs to be introduced in a gradual manner but without compromising on the combat potential of the army. We must also be aware that our socio-economic conditions and possible fall outs of militarisation of youth will have different impact from other developed countries if their energies are not channelized carefully once they return from Army. First, the government should continue to fill up at least 50 % posts in fighting and technical wings (so that the war fighting machinery is not compromised) directly on regular basis till the efficacy of Agnipath is ensured. Second, there is no provision for Ghurkhas of Nepal who are very vital part of Indian Army and are shining example of Indo-Nepal ties and need to be continued. Third, the caste, religion and region wise constitutions of regiments must not be abandoned as it has been a big motivational factor. Fourth, it should be possible to have a provision of 4 years extension for the Agniveers without any pension liability. Fifth, the government must suitably enhance its monthly contribution, allow Dearness allowance and give a gratuity of 10 lakh in addition to what has been promised. Sixth, the Insurance cover of 44 lakh for a young Agniveer is less. It should be at least 1 crore which now the army has announced. Last but not the least, the verbal and executive instructions are pooh-poohed by political leaders and bureaucracy in the States. Therefore, by an Act of Parliament some percentage of posts in police and other uniformed services both under the Central as well as State governments and also in private sector should be reserved for eligible Agniveers. If these suggestions are considered the scheme may well change the future of Indian defence forces as well as the mindset of our youth. After all change is a must and change is inevitable. But the change over should be gradual and implemented with due caution.