Agnipath: Amid Violent Protests, Veterans Question New Recruitment Scheme
Under the Agnipath scheme, the new recruits, called the Agniveers, will be recruited on a contract of four years and only 25% of these will be retained later.
Violent protests have broken out in states like Bihar and Rajasthan over the Centre's Agnipath scheme for recruitment in the three services--Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. Train coaches were burnt, rail and road traffic interrupted and public properties vandalised as youth hit the streets in protest against the new scheme.
The protesters include young aspirants who wish to be recruited in the army. The youth are miffed over the age restrictions and also the fact that they won't be eligible for pensions. The duration of the tenure for most recruits will be 4 years, as compared to the current tenure of 15 years. "We demand that the recruitment be done as it used to be done earlier. Tour of Duty (ToD) be rolled back and exams be held as earlier. Nobody will go to the Army for just four years," a protester told reporters in Munger, Bihar.
Under the Agnipath scheme, the new recruits, called the Agniveers, will be recruited on a contract of four years and 45,000 to 50,000 personnel will be recruited annually. However, only 25% of these will be retained after four years. Those retained will be allowed to continue their services for the next 15 years and will be able to avail benefits like health insurance.
The Agnipath recruitment scheme is for personnel below officer ranks and every recruitment below officer rank will be done via the Agnipath only. Those between the ages of 17.5 years and 23 years will be eligible to apply to the three services through the system. The government had earlier set the upper age limit as 21 and was changed to 23 on Thursday amid massive protests.
BOOM spoke to Rameshswar Roy, retired army general who termed the move as ill-timed owing to the tensions along the borders with China. "India has one of the most volatile borders in the world. And at a time when there are tensions with China along the border in Ladakh, government decides to make changes in the military recruitment process," Roy said.
Veterans weigh in
He said the geo-political situation is currently volatile after Russia's attack on Ukraine which has put India in a tight spot after its stand on the issue. "China is making bridges in Ladakh. It is not a defensive move. It is an aggressive move as they can cut us off completely from the region by pushing in more forces."
At such a crucial time, getting soldiers with just six months of training will impact the quality of the forces, he said. Roy, who served in the army for 42 years, said the new scheme will give rise to discrimination between the old recruits and those recruited under Agnipath. "Those recruited through Agnipath will given a life insurance of Rs 48 lac by the government, while as those who have been recruited earlier are paying for their own insurances," he said. In terms of salary, he said there are chances that there will be disparity between those who were recruited earlier and those who will be taken into the services now. "Is there a way that the balance will be maintained in the salaries?" he asked.
Retd Maj Gen Roy said the new scheme can also impact the quality of the soldiers. "India has very volatile borders with China and Pakistan. And in such a situation how can we pitch in soldiers who have just six months of training?" he asked. He also pointed out at the gaps in manpower since there were no recruitment since 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said the undertrained personnel will be a problem for the forces in combat situations itself. "The commanding officers will be questioned if they suffer more casualties," he said.
Retired general BS Dhanoa also questioned the short-term commissioning of new soldiers. "Four years is a little on the shorter side and feels exploitative. We have to examine whether it works well for the armed forces too," he said while speaking to news agency AFP. He said while the Indian military was in need of a reform, the effectiveness of the new scheme is yet to be seen.
"Two serious recommendations to the just announced recruitment policy for the armed forces; a. Increase the service period of new recruits to a min of seven years b. Make the retention of those keen to serve longer at least 50 percent," he said in a tweet.
The Opposition slammed the government for the move. Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Thursday spoke in support of the protesting youth. "Listen to the voice of the unemployed youth of the country, don't test their restraint by driving them on 'Agneepath', Prime Minister," Gandhi wrote on Twitter in Hindi.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also spoke in support of the army aspirants. "Listen to the voice of the unemployed youth of the country, don't test their restraint by driving them on 'Agneepath', Prime Minister," Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.
However, Congress MP and member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, Manish tiwari welcomed the move and said that the change in the old system is needed. "In the last three decades, most armed forces have transitioned to a very light footprint on the ground while being very heavy on technology and artillery. In such a situation, if India needs a younger force and ultimately if it requires that its pension bill also comes under manageable limits, reform is necessary," he was quoted as saying by India Today.
Putting to rest the apprehensions of aspirants, the government on Thursday listed out the benefits for those who will not be regularised after 4 years. From Rs 12 lakh financial package and assistance for loans to start entrepreneurship to priority in police and allied fores, the government in a tweet said the agniveers will be trained technically so that they get hired in IT, security and engineering sector.
What will an Agniveer do after 4 years of Agnipath Yojana? Well, a lot! Take a look… #BharatKeAgniveer pic.twitter.com/L8OVsuvzAH— MyGovIndia (@mygovindia) June 16, 2022
Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday said the scheme was being implemented to strengthen India's security, while the 'agniveers' will also get a good pay and an exit retirement package after a service of 4 years.
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