It is a short-service manpower model under which around 45,000 to 50,000 soldiers will be recruited annually. Of these, 75% will leave the service in four years. 25% will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission.
Eligibility Criteria: The new system is only for personnel below officer ranks (those who do not join the forces as commissioned officers). Aspirants between the ages of 17.5 years and 21 years will be eligible to apply.
Post Selection Scenario: Once selected, the aspirants will go through training for six months and then will be deployed for three and a half years.
- 30% of their salary will be set aside under a Seva Nidhi programme, and the Government will contribute an equal amount every month, and it will also accrue interest. At the end of the four-year period, each soldier will get INR 11.71 lakh as a lump sum amount, which will be tax-free.
- They will also get a INR 48 lakh life insurance cover for the four years. In case of death, the payout will be over INR 1 crore, including pay for the unserved tenure.
- There shall be no entitlement to gratuity and pensionary benefits.
- The move will make the permanent force levels much leaner for the over 13-lakh strong armed forces in the country. Further, the average age in the forces is 32 years today. It is expected to go down to 26 in 6 to 7 years with the implementation of the scheme.
- A leaner force and reduced benefits will considerably decrease the defence bill, which has been a major concern for governments for many years. This year’s Budget estimate on defense pension is 4.4% of total expenditure (0.6% of the GDP). Pensions made up 28.4% of this year’s defense budget.
- The scheme will ensure ‘All India, All Class’ recruitment to the services. This is significant for the Army, where the regiment system has region and caste bases.
- The ex-agniveers could act as an adhoc buffer force who may be called to serve again for boosting national security in times of external/internal threats.
- The skills and experience acquired during the 4-year service will allow the soldiers to get employment in various fields. This will also lead to availability of a higher-skilled workforce to the economy which will be helpful in productivity gain and overall GDP growth.
- All major militaries in the world are undergoing reform. There is a trend towards reduction in the number of personnel and emphasis on increasing capital expenditure on modern weapons and equipment. EG: The Israeli army has service of 30 months and 22 months respectively for men and women, yet enjoys a reputation for being among the best in the world.
- The government hopes to hire 46,000 “agniveer” this year. Although with the age limits, the recruitment may not include those who have been waiting for the hiring freeze since 2020 to end. More than a lakh vacancies have built up in the Indian Army alone over the last two years, but under the new policy, not all may be filled.
- Indian Army’s experiments so far with diversity in closed regiments have yielded mixed results. There is a probability that the new scheme may do more harm than good in diversifying the static regiments.
- ex- agniveers may have to face hardships in getting employment after 4 years of service. Especially when meaningful employment opportunities in significant or adequate numbers still elude an ever-increasing number of graduates.
- Further, ‘trained-to-kill’ soldiers being demobilized every year could prove dangerous if they remain jobless and frustrated. Many believe it may lead to militarisation of society.
- Many experts believe that shorter duration service could compromise on training, morale and commitment in comparison to the permanent recruits. Critics argue that agniveers may turn out of to be risk-averse with the bulk looking to secure an alternate career.
- An armed forces boasting of a poor teeth-to-tail ratio is further increasing the tail.
- Impact on operational capabilities: The tooth-to-tail ratio (T3R), in military jargon, is the amount of military personnel it takes to supply and support (“tail”) each combat soldier (“tooth”).
- The Agnipath scheme also does away with the idea of a State-wise quota for recruitment into the Army, based on the Recruitable Male Population of that State which was implemented from 1966. This prevented an imbalanced army.
- The Government should help rehabilitate soldiers who leave the services after four years. They can be provided with skill certificates and bridge courses that will help them in finding gainful employment.
- No reform can be fool-proof and without teething troubles. But as Agnipath Scheme concerns national defence and security, the Government will need to have a plan to anticipate and address the problems that lie beyond the bold step forward.
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