The weeks preceding the announcement of the “Agnipath Scheme saw buzz about a revolutionary new program to overhaul the current Indian Army, Navy and Air Force ranks. True to all the hype, when announced on Tuesday by Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh, in Delhi, the package has left a mixed response. Those who hail it have labelled it as a path to a “leaner, meaner Indian Forces” and those who have pointed out the errors state that the renewed package “comes at the cost of professional ethos, military spirit and will dent aspirations of those eager to enrol.”
Also present on the occasion were tri-services chief: Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar, Army Chief General Manoj Pande and the IAF Chief V.R Chaudhuri.
Termed the ‘Tour of Duty’ (ToD) –the Agnipath recruitment scheme – it was envisaged in 2020 by the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) headed by the late Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat. Its objective was primarily to reduce the ballooning services pension pay-outs in order to effect savings in India’s declining annual defence budget to finance long-postponed military modernisation.
The military in India has not undergone this sweeping change since its inception post-Independence. The scheme is a part of the government’s efforts toward reducing expenditure and the age profile of the defence forces. The catchment areas for recruitment could also be significantly expanded.
- Under the scheme, about 45,000 people between the age of 17.5 years and 21 years will be inducted into the services for a four-year tenure. The recruitments will begin within the next 90 days and the first batch will be ready by July 2023.
- Those selected for the scheme will be known as Agniveers. The selection will be made through an online centralised system, the government said. Educational qualification for Agniveers will be the same as the criteria for regular positions in the force.
- Women will also be inducted under the Agnipath scheme, Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said. Army Chief General Manoj Pande said Agniveers will be fully assimilated and integrated into the services.
- This four-year tenure will include a six-month training. During this period, they will be paid a monthly salary between ₹ 30,000-40,000 plus allowances. They will also be entitled to medical and insurance benefits.
- After four years, only 25 per cent of these soldiers will be retained and they will join the regular cadre and go on to serve for a full 15 years in non-officer ranks.
- The remaining will exit the services with a package between ₹ 11 lakh – ₹ 12 lakh, but they will not be eligible for pension benefits. The forces announced that provisions have been made for loss of life or disability due to an injury on duty.
- The scheme, if successful, will drastically cut the annual revenue and pension bill which accounts for half of the annual defence budget of ₹ 5.2-lakh crore.
- The government says the scheme will enhance the “youthful profile” of the forces and also bring about a transformational shift towards a more tech-savvy combat force.
- The scheme has drawn criticism from some quarters, with critics arguing that it will impact the fighting spirit and professionalism of forces. They have raised concerns that the four-year tenure may make soldiers risk-averse.
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