Agnipath Scheme: Paving Way to Atmanirbhar Bharat

Samprikta Banerjee

Background

On the 14th of June, 2022, the Defense Minister, Rajanath Singh launched the Agnipath Scheme (Agnipath Yojana) as a tour-of-duty style scheme for the recruitment of youths as soldiers into the three services of the armed forces as Agniveers for four years period. It follows a Pan India merit-based recruitment where the youths are even given an opportunity to apply for enrolment in a regular cadre, wherein up to 25% of the Agniveers can be selected as regular cadre through a central, transparent, and regular system after four years. These youths are subject to attractive monthly emoluments and a handsome “Seva Nidhi” package.

However, the sudden announcement of the Agnipath scheme has led to widespread and violent protests in many states. The protestors are agitating against short-term engagement and compulsory retirement without any gratuity and pension benefits. Many veterans have also cautioned that the scheme could have an adverse impact on the professionalism and the ethos of the military.

Objectives

It is hailed to be a transformative scheme with positive impacts on the human resource management of the armed forces. The broad objectives of the scheme are stated as under: –

  1. To enhance youthful profile so that they are at their fighting best at all times with increased risk-taking abilities. This would improve battle preparedness through transformative evolution.
  2. To provide abilities and qualities such as discipline, dynamism, motivation, and work skills to keep the youth an asset. It will enhance Nation building.
  3. To imbibe The Armed Forces’ ethos, courage, camaraderie, commitment, and teamwork in the youth.
  4. To attract young talent from society to effectively exploit, adopt and use emerging modern technologies with enhanced technical thresholds of intake while leveraging Technical Institutions of the country. It endeavours to harness the benefits of SKILL INDIA by induction from Tech Institution.
  5. To provide an opportunity to the youth who may be keen to serve the Nation in uniform albeit for a short period of time. Their resume would be unique, and an Agniveer would stand out.

Performance

On completion of the engagement period of four years, Agniveers will be paid a one-time ‘SevaNidhi’ package which shall comprise their contribution including accrued interest thereon and a matching contribution from the Government equal to the accumulated amount of their contribution including interest as indicated below:

YearCustomized Package (Monthly)In-Hand (70%)Contribution to Agniveer Corpus Fund (30%)Contribution to corpus fund by GoI
All figures in Rs (Monthly Contribution)
1st Year300002100090009000
2nd Year330002310099009900
3rd Year36500255801095010950
4th Year40000280001200012000
Total Contribution in Agniveer Corpus Fund after 4 yearsRs 5.02 LakhRs 5.02 Lakh
Exit After 4 yearsRs 11.71 Lakh as SevaNidhi Package (Including, interest accumulated on the above amount as per the applicable interest rates would also be paid)

The ‘Seva Nidhi’ will be exempt from Income Tax. There shall be no entitlement to gratuity and pensionary benefits. Agniveers will be provided non-contributory Life Insurance Cover of Rs 48 lakh for the duration of their engagement period in the Indian Armed Forces. Enrolment will be undertaken through an online centralized system for all three services with specialized rallies and campus interviews from recognized technical institutes such as Industrial Training Institutes and National Skills Qualifications Framework, among others.

Enrolment will be based on an ‘All India All Class’ basis and the eligible age will be in the range from 17.5 to 21 years. The age was further increased to 23 years as a one-time relaxation in view of the two-year break in recruitment because of Covid 19 for the batch of 2022. Agniveers will meet the medical eligibility conditions laid down for enrolment in the armed forces as applicable to respective categories/trades. The educational qualification for Agniveers will remain in vogue for enrollment in various categories. For the 25% of soldiers, who are re-selected, the initial four-year period will not be considered for retirement benefits.

Under this scheme, 45000 to 50000 Agniveers shall be recruited every year. According to the Ministry of Defense, the government plans to recruit 46,000 Agniveers in 2022, of which 40,000 will be inducted into the Army and 3,000 each into the Navy and Air Force. Lt General B. S. Raju, Vice Chief of the Army, has said that the intake of Agniveers will increase to “1.2 lakhs by the seventh or eighth year, and then 1.6 lakhs by the 10th or 11th year.”

He further specified that with the increased induction of Agniveers in the coming years, the Indian Army was looking at a 50:50 ratio of regulars and Agniveers. However, the Army Vice Chief’s statement on induction does not clarify whether the induction rate is intended to maintain the current strength of ORs or how the 50:50 ratio will be achieved and if it can be sustained.

“Registration process for the first batch of Agniveers will start from June 24 and from July 24, phase 1 online examination process will begin”, said Air Marshal Jha. He informed me that the first batch would be enrolled by December and training would commence by December 30.

Talking about the recruitment process in Indian Navy, Vice Admiral Dinesh Tripathi said the first batch of naval Agniveers will start reaching the training establishment INS Chilka in Odisha on November 21. He also made clear that both males and females will be recruited through the Agnipath scheme. “By December, we will get the first batch of 25,000 Agniveers and the second batch would be inducted around February 2023 making it 40,000,” said Lt Gen Bansi Ponappa.

Agitations against the Scheme and reasons for the same

After the proclamation of the NDA government’s Agnipath Scheme for short-term recruitment across the Indian military establishments, India witnessed violent protests across many parts of the country, first cropping up in Bihar on 16th June 2022. The Veteran generals and air commanders have mixed opinions on the protests now rocking parts of the country. While Some say that it might be an expression of the youth’s apprehension regarding their future that what might become of them if they aren’t among the selected 25% for permanent work in the military while some feel that it has been orchestrated.

However, a recent essay published by Observer Research Foundation, named ‘Agnipath Scheme: Radical or Irrational’, states that the protestors are acutely aware that the jobs that are being offered would neither have the kind of social status nor the economic benefits that regular armed forces job holds and so the major reason cited for the violent protests is the temporary nature of the job with no post-retirement benefits that regular armed forces jobs offer. The protest soon spread to 15 states of India disrupting daily life and damaging public property. Finally, the government subsided the agitation with strong police action and a combination of concessions on their part.

The major reason that was highlighted was the growing unemployment and stagnation of private sectors leading to people finding Government jobs more appealing as beyond comparatively higher remuneration, employees in the public sector are entitled to a host of other benefits including provident fund/pension, gratuity, and medical expenses amongst others. However, statistics show that not only has the hiring in government departments declined drastically majorly due to the repercussions felt by the pandemic, but there are also growing trends of ‘temporization’ agitating the youth against such temporary jobs.

Concessions in the Agnipath Scheme to Defuse Agitations

Several new concessions were undertaken to pacify the agitations which include the following:

  • Union Defense Minister Rajnath Singh approved a proposal to reserve 10% of the job vacancies in the Ministry of Defense for ‘Agniveers’ meeting requisite eligibility criteria. The 10% reservation will be implemented in the Indian Coast Guard, state-run defence firms and defence civilian posts, and all 16 Defense Public Sector Undertakings.
  • 10 per cent vacancies in the Central Armed Police Forces or CAPFs and Assam Rifles will be reserved for Agniveers. The Union Ministry of home affairs (MHA) announced this quota for Agniveers for recruitment after they complete their four-year stint.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs also announced an upper age limit relaxation of three years for recruitments in CAPFs and Assam Rifles for Agniveers. Hence the upper age limit will now stand at 26 years.
  • The first batch of Agniveers will avail a relaxation of five years beyond the upper age limit of 23, taking it to 28 years.
  • Employment opportunities in merchant navy for Agniveers from the Indian Navy, six service avenues for induction by the Shipping Ministry after completion of their four-year stint. This was announced by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways (MoPSW). According to an official statement, the scheme will enable Agniveers to acquire the necessary training, with naval experience and professional certification to join the remunerative merchant navy across the world.
  • The Department of School Education, through its autonomous institution — the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) – announced that it will institute a special program in consultation with defence authorities to enable Agniveers who are 10th pass to further their education and obtain a 12th class pass certificate by developing customized courses.
  • The Ministry of Education has decided to launch a special three-year skill-based bachelor’s degree program for serving defence personnel that will recognize the skill training received by them during their tenure in the defence establishments to enhance the future career prospects of Agniveers and to equip them for various job roles in the civilian sector. 50% of the credits required for a graduate degree will come from skill training received by an Agniveer and 50% will come from a basket of courses.
  • Several state governments have announced that Agniveers, after serving the Armed Forces for four years, will be given preference in filling vacancies in state police forces.
  • It was decided that banks would explore possibilities of supporting Agniveers through suitable credit facilities for skill upgradation and education. Moreover, firms would explore employment opportunities for them based on their skills and qualifications.

Prospects

  • It aims to achieve the goal of ensuring that a significant section of the youth is instilled with the positive values of discipline, patriotism, and teamwork, thereby creating a pool of trained personnel to be called upon by the government during times of crisis.
  • Previously, the average age of service in the Indian military is about 32 years which this scheme aims to lower to 27 or 28 years thereby ensuring the recruitment of more fit and agile individuals in the military.
  • From the point of view of the Indian Government, it has eased its finances in the sense that limiting required service to four years and excluding a significant percentage of personnel, by requiring them to leave service before earning benefits, will dramatically reduce the cost of pensions in the defence budget thereby leaving funds to be spent on productive purposes.
  • The Indian military losses approximately 60,000 per year through retirement with recruitment struggling to meet the numbers. Therefore, this scheme will work wonders in trying to maintain the numbers by recruiting young militants in their stead with a new batch coming in every year and retiring after four years.
  • The Agnipath retirees will get ₹12 lakhs to start their new life or utilize the funds for further education and those who wished to be entrepreneurs will get help from the government securing business loans.

Consequences

  • Concerns regarding employment provision for only 4 years without any provision for a pension scheme. This created confusion and concerns among the youths regarding their job security, as most would become unemployed after four years.
  • The selected candidates will be recruited for the non-commissioned ranks only such as Sepoy, Naik, and Lance Naik.
  • In the Agnipath scheme,75% of the strength whose services will be dispensed with, will attempt to gain entry into the CAPFs thereby upsetting the applecart of seniority in these forces.

Emerging Issues

The Issues can be noted down under the following pointers:

  • It reportedly takes two to three years to properly train military personnel whereas the Agniveers will be trained only for six months. Fewer days of training can lead to inefficiency in the armed forces. Defence analysts have allegedly pointed out that Russian soldiers who were trained for a limited amount of time before they went to war have performed disastrously. Hence, such a step can result in incapability within the military which can prove disastrous for the Indian military.
  • Apprehensions have been voiced against how the new recruits will be adjusted in the existing system under which most of the Army units are region, caste, or class-based.

Way Forward

Even with the disadvantages of this scheme being a thing of concern, this scheme serves the need of connecting multiple dots in the ecosystem related to national security and the creation of credible defence forces, besides national capacities being built in all domains. The additional availability of trained Agniveers will be able to create surge capacities if the necessity so arises. This would empower the youths and instil a positive national fervour in the country thereby helping the country hold up against wars and such instabilities.

Although protests agitated in several parts regarding the lack of job security associated with this scheme, the military protested that their primary concern is to win battles and save the country and not to prepare people for future jobs. However, rehabilitation is necessary for these soldiers employed under the Agnipath Scheme due to the following reasons:

  • The relationship between a soldier and the state is characterized by a mutual obligation that is often referred to as a military covenant which states that in return for the patriotism of the soldier and willingness of the soldier to put himself/herself in the face of harm, the state is supposed to provide prestige, security, dignity, recognition, and gratitude to the soldier in return which includes job security in its domain.
  • If the Agniveers don’t find proper rehabilitation after leaving the military, the attractiveness of a uniformed and bright career could decline which could adversely impact the quality of recruits opting for the military.

It is, therefore, recommended that the first four years of the Agnipath scheme be treated as a testbed from which valuable lessons can be learned. Perhaps there is already a move in this direction with the Vice Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General B. S. Raju, stating: “What we are doing is actually a pilot project,” and based on this experience, “necessary changes could be brought about.” With national security at stake, a radical change of the kind envisaged by the Agnipath scheme must be put through a rigorous test, and as found necessary adapted, before final implementation.

References

Samprikta Banerjee is a Research Intern at IMPRI.

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