Will Govt Review The Controversy-Ridden Agnipath Scheme? - Vibes Of India

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Will Govt Review The Controversy-Ridden Agnipath Scheme?

| Updated: June 19, 2024 11:23

One of the first demands of NDA ally Janata dal (United) at the Centre is to scrap the Agnipath scheme for defence forces. JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar is reportedly adamant on its removal.

Sensing possible trouble, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced that the government was open to reviewing the scheme. Similar indications also emanated from the headquarters of the defence forces.

How the scheme was conceived and implemented leaves many questions unanswered. It, therefore, became one of the several important factors for the loss of many seats and a large reduction in vote share for the ruling party in all those states where joining the defence forces is a major source of employment for youth.

Ex-Army Chief General Naravane has clearly hinted that the Agnipath scheme in its present form was not what was recommended by the defence services. The scheme was originally intended only for the Army, but was then extended to the Navy and Air Force. Another point he has raised is that the government ignored the original recommendation of the retention of 75 per cent of Agniveers, and opted for the retention of only 25 per cent.

That apart, perational level commanders, both officers and JCOs, as well as retired army officials have clearly stated that the Agniveers are not suitable for the Army. The Agniveers, they found, were prone to making all kinds of excuses to avoid tough duties, often saying that they were only here for four years and should not be detailed for hard duties, especially those involving risk of life. Many feel a four-year term is too short for the Agniveers to become proficient in undertaking repair and maintenance of equipment and grasp the technical aspects of providing and ensuring continued communication in the forward areas.

This also applies to other important arms like the armoured and artillery, which have equipment requiring intensive advanced training that cannot be imparted during basic induction training because the goal here is to make a soldier physically fit and bring about attitudinal change. The absence of such specialised training will adversely impact the efficiency of these important arms. The same applies to the Air Force and Navy.

It is said that the defence forces have circulated internal instructions placing many restrictions on the employability of Agniveers, confirming the lack of confidence of the leadership in their ability. Reportedly, these instructions ask units and formations not to nominate them for training courses at the army level, or detail them for Extra Regimental Employment (ERE) and attachments to special detachments.

Independent deployment of Agniveers as guards and sentries is reportedly not permitted besides restrictions on being employed as buddies of officers and JCOs. Such restrictions impose heavy costs on the human resources within the units and subunits, as the burden of such duties falls on the remaining regular soldiers, affecting their rest, relief, training, and leave plan.

The test of a good policy relating to defence should be whether it enhances national security and the efficiency of the forces. The Agniveer scheme appears to fail on both counts.

The initial reason given by the government for introducing the scheme was that it was faced with a fund crunch for modernisation and acquiring better weaponry because of the heavy outgo for pensions. It was articulated that the Agnipath scheme would lead to savings on pension.

On the face of it, an outgo of almost Rs 12 lakh annually for every Agniveer for 75 per cent of Agniveers (starting from 2026 onwards), may not have much impact on the availability of funds. While more funds are indeed required for acquiring equipment, it should not happen at the cost of adversely impacting combat effectiveness. Agnipath is not an optimum solution towards achieving that end.

If the idea was to enhance the availability of funds, the government should have focused on improving the teeth-to-tail ratio in the defence services. There are many support arms which can be trimmed to achieve this end.

Combat effectiveness should have been the basic consideration which will be severely affected because the training of Agniveers has been shortened. Training gives confidence and motivation which an inadequately trained Agniveer is unlikely to have, more so because of a lack of certainty about his future. An inadequately trained and demotivated soldier is likely to be the first to desert his comrades.

The Agnipath scheme also needs to be analysed in the context of its impact on society. Firstly, it is likely to discourage the youth from joining the armed forces, a phenomenon which is already visible in the reported lack of crowds at recruitment rallies. The most important of which is the uncertainty over tenure within the organisation. Not only will they have spent four formative years of their lives in the forces, but they will face the prospect of finding another job in the open market for which he is not equipped with adequate skills or the necessary education.

The harsh reality is that they will most likely get a job as a low-paying security guard in the mushrooming private security industry. They are likely to find it difficult to adjust to a civilian atmosphere after having served in defence forces. Even the alternative of giving preference to Agniveers in the Central Armed Police Forces, i.e., the BSF, the CRPF, the CISF, the ITBP, and the SSB, or even in the police, may not lead to absorption of all released Agniveers.

The lack of pension and other facilities like medical also are likely to adversely impact the Agniveers financially. The lump sum amount of Rs 12 lakh or so that they will receive isn’t adequate for them to start a proper business and simultaneously cater to the financial needs of their family.

The regular release of Agniveers, trained in handling weapons and other military aspects, especially if they are not able to find gainful employment, is also likely to adversely impact social harmony. We already have a large restive youth population facing unprecedented levels of unemployment, being exploited by fundamentalist organisations for hate crimes. The addition of trained but unemployed Agniveers in society could lead to its further militarisation.

The government must have an open mind and it must consider all options — including scrapping the scheme. Any modification in the scheme, like enhancement of tenure or increasing the percentage of retention, will require in-depth analysis.

The modifications must first be restricted to a pilot scheme to see its efficacy in detail before any kind of implementation. The scheme also has to be made more attractive by adding some perks like a medical facility and a canteen facility. The government must take a holistic view to make our defence forces more efficient.

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