On Tuesday, the Centre unveiled its ‘historic’ defence policy reform — the Agnipath recruitment scheme of soldiers, sailors and airmen into the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force.
Under the scheme, around 46,000 soldiers will be recruited this year between the ages of 17-and-a -half years and 21 years into the three services on a four-year short-term contractual basis, in an attempt to bring in fitter and younger troops to deal with future security challenges facing the nation.
The ‘Agnipath’ scheme approved by the CCS chaired by Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi is a truly transformative reform which will enhance the combat potential of the Armed Forces, with younger profile and technologically adept soldiers. #BharatKeAgniveer pic.twitter.com/2NI2LMiYVV
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) June 14, 2022
The scheme will bring down the average age of a soldier from the current 32 years to 24-26 years in six to seven years.
Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande lauded the recruitment scheme, saying, “The scheme, one of the most significant initiatives, aims to make the Army a future-ready fighting force, capable of meeting multiple challenges, across the full spectrum of conflict.”
Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari said the Indian Air Force is looking to tap into the source of dynamic young people and it will train and expose them to the high tech environment and hone their skills for future employment.
“The new scheme, therefore, gives the IAF an opportunity to draw from the vast pool of talent available in the country,” he said.
Admiral Hari Kumar voiced the same enthusiasm on the scheme, “As far as the Navy is concerned, the Agniveers will provide a steady and continuous infusion of unbridled vitality, enthusiasm and new-age abilities of youth.”
While much has been written on the advantages and benefits of the Agnipath scheme, there are still some who wonder what will be the future of these soldiers, called Agniveers, after their tenure of four years end.
We take a closer look at the Agnipath scheme and decode the future that lies for our ‘Agniveers’.
Agniveers and their future
As stated earlier, the soldiers recruited through this new scheme will be called Agniveers and will be inducted into the three services ¬— Army, Navy and Air Force — for a period of four years.
In this time, their remuneration would be Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000 per month, aside from other risk and hardship allowances.
The scheme also has a 'Seva Nidhi' contributory package, under which the soldiers will contribute 30 per cent of their monthly emoluments and the government will contribute the same amount. On completion of four years, they will receive a one-time payment of Rs 11.7 lakh (with interest), which will be tax-free.
According to the defence ministry, on completion of the four-year tenure, 25 per cent of the Agniveers will be enrolled in the Armed Forces as regular cadres for a minimum period of 15 years.
The remaining will get assistance for further employment avenues. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told the media that various states and ministries in the central government are working towards ensuring that Agniveers get preference in jobs after they complete their tenure and the full picture will emerge in a few days.
Taking this forward, the Home Ministry on Wednesday announced that the retiring Agniveers will be given preferential admission into Central Armed Police Force and Assam Rifles.
‘अग्निपथ योजना’ युवाओं के उज्ज्वल भविष्य के लिए @narendramodi जी का एक दूरदर्शी व स्वागत योग्य निर्णय है।
इसी संदर्भ में आज गृह मंत्रालय ने इस योजना में 4 साल पूरा करने वाले अग्निवीरों को CAPFs और असम राइफल्स में भर्ती में प्राथमिकता देने का निर्णय लिया है।#BharatKeAgniveer
— गृहमंत्री कार्यालय, HMO India (@HMOIndia) June 15, 2022
Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted, “This decision, taken under the leadership of PM Modi, will ensure that country’s youth who will be trained under the Agnipath Scheme can continue to contribute to the security of the nation. Detailed planning work has been started on this decision.”
The government has also stated that the Agnipath scheme would bring huge dividends to the nation, society and the youth.
In a statement, the Centre said, “This includes inculcation of patriotism, team work, enhancement of physical fitness, ingrained loyalty for the country and availability of trained personnel to boost national security in times of external threats, internal threats and natural disasters.”
Speaking about the future of these Agniveers, General Pande was quoted as saying, “The Agniveer, leaving after four years, will be empowered with suitable skills and financial means and carry a unique resume that will significantly enhance his/her value and employability in civil society.”
In fact, when the idea was first mooted by the defence ministry, ASSOCHAM had lauded it and industrialist Anand Mahindra had said that he would only be too happy to welcome such a well-trained and disciplined work force in his companies after their exit from service.
All’s not well?
However, as it is with all new schemes, the Agnipath recruitment scheme for soldiers isn’t without criticism.
News agency PTI reported that Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retired) as saying that the Agnipath scheme — also called the Tour of Duty scheme — will sound the death knell for the armed forces.
“ToD (Tour of Duty) not tested, no pilot project, straight implementation. Will also lead to militarisation of society, nearly 40,000 (75 per cent) youth year-on-year back rejected and dejected without a job, semi trained in arms ex-Agniveers. Not a good idea. No one gains,” Bhatia wrote on Twitter.
In his blog, Lieutenant General P R Shankar (retired) said, “Many senior veterans have written with the wisdom of their experience. A common voice has emerged. The tour of duty does not seem to be a good idea. Proceed with caution."
Shankar said the scheme expects a superman from a kindergarten student. “We might be producing an Abhimanyu but he will not get out of the Chakravyuh. After five years of tour of duty, Arjuns will not be available in our next Mahabharata. The cutting edge units will not be able to fight. There are no runners-up in war,” he wrote on Twitter.
With inputs from agencies