The Agnipath scheme was announced on 14 June 2022 as a new model of recruitment in the defence forces, wherein a new category of entrants known as Agniveers will be inducted for a period of four years, including the training period of six months. These personnel, though recruited under respective service acts, will form a different rank altogether.
The scheme is a game-changer on multiple counts, though a false narrative is being built that this has been launched to save the defence pension. While outgo on pay and pension remains a concern in the realms of the defence budget as more than 50 per cent outgo on these two leaves a marginal budget for capital procurement, the scheme being solely linked to saving the defence pension is far from the truth, though some incidental benefits will accrue.
Some analysts have calculated the savings on account of pension and the figures indicate that the saving is very marginal for a country like India which has just invested to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore on the S-400 missile defence system alone, besides being the third largest defence importer in the world. This narrative, therefore, needs to be quelled. It will then put us in an open and objective frame of mind to analyse the scheme and come out with its value points, including the likely challenges if any.
The scheme aims to change a lot in the defence forces, besides attempting to transform the youth of the nation. Youth in India is going to be one of the biggest game-changer, if suitably utilised. While a number of countries in the world are having a larger percentage of ageing population, India is at the cusp of a population dividend in the form of ‘youth bulge’. But this will be to our advantage only when this youth is having nationalistic feelings, motivated, skilled and disciplined. In absence of these qualities, they will become a liability, especially when confronted with unemployment, poverty and social divide on various counts.
When the National Cadet Corps was raised on 15 July 1948, a number of deliberations were undertaken to find the best organisation suited for nurturing the NCC and the ultimate choice was the defence forces. It is to the credit of the defence forces that they assumed this responsibility at a time when the India-Pakistan war of 1947-48 was still ongoing. It was due to this primary reason of youth connecting better to the defence forces, necessary transformation responsibility is given to the school and college-going children to our defence forces. Is there any input to suggest that the capacity of the defence forces was adversely affected due to this nation-building exercise? There is none.
Now a new challenge has come up for the nation wherein certain value sets have to be imbibed in the youth to become the game-changer for the national growth. Due credit must be given to the architects of the Agnipath scheme as it has created a win-win situation wherein it is doing major good to the defence forces while addressing the concerns of the youth in the process. Adorning the uniform for the first time is a moment of immense pride and is truly an unforgettable moment. The youth joining as an Agniveer will be able to serve the nation even if it is for a period of four years, they will be reasonably well paid as compared to their civil counterparts, they will be able to experience and feel the diversity of this nation which is our biggest strength, they will be entitled to risk coverage during their service, they will be skilled, given additional educational qualifications, a handsome severance package of Rs 11-12 lakh (which will be tax free), besides getting the chance for permanent absorption up to the strength of 25 percent which is a reasonably high percentage of selection given the current national dynamics. Besides, these people will be in a better condition to compete on merit in CAPF/State Police Forces/ other government jobs. Undoubtedly, their profile will improve in every domain as compared to their current status.
As far as the defence forces are concerned, they will have multiple advantages. Average age profile will come down from the current 32 years to close to 26 years in the next few years. Overall motivation level and competition will improve, giving distinct advantages to the units. Those 25 per cent re-inducted will be the best amongst the lot and will be highly capable individuals. They will be able to fight the future wars more efficiently while handling sophisticated weapons and the equipment. Being adept with modern tools of automation, at least in its functional use, they will be able to efficiently function in a networked environment.
A scheme which has been curated for the good of the defence forces and the nation is unnecessarily getting flak and is getting stuck in a wrong pension-saving narrative. India has been assisting Sri Lanka with billions of dollars and to think that an inefficient scheme has been brought in to save the pension nullifies the narrative altogether, especially when pittance is being saved. The real motive of the scheme needs to be appreciated and conveyed, as against adding apprehensions in the young minds.
The writer is a retired Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.