Agnipath: Dousing the Fire

The new recruitment policy Agnipath for the armed forces, before its implementation finds itself surrounded by the ring of fire. Considered to be a radical and transformative reform, the scheme requires careful handling and patience. The attempt to pass on an early verdict on Agnipath’s failure is not in national interest………..

By Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja

Opinion

Just two days after the announcement of the new recruitment policy for the three Services, Agnipath, protests have begun, without even trying to understand the nuances of the scheme, or the first recruitment being done. Apart from the affected youngster, who will either join the Service to leave after four years, or will be selected as a part of the 25 percent to join the mainstream of the chosen Service, it appears that some who have been stoking the fire, are doing so for selfish interests.

The Services have been talking of a leaner and meaner age-profile for the last 12-15 years, even when I was still donning the uniform, but somehow could not get down to it. Today when a scheme has been announced, in attempt to achieve the goal, the people/politicians are growing restive, immediately after the announcement itself.

From what I have understood of the scheme, I am sharing with all readers, in an attempt to clear the fog. First: the age profile. The youngster, who at the end of his tenure of four years, and for whatever reasons comes back to civvy street, will be only 25 years of age – very much employable, but much more skill-qualified than when he joined the force. Second: the skill levels that he would have learnt during the four years would have taken him to senior apprentice level, or even higher, as per the AICTE norms.

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Today when a scheme has been announced, in attempt to achieve the goal, the people/politicians are growing restive, immediately after the announcement itself

He would, therefore, be not just employable, but highly so. What more can a 25-year-old want at that age! Third: at the end of the 4-year tenure, if he has done well, and if he wishes to continue, and is medically fit, the youngster could well be absorbed into the Service, through the 25 percent merit list. Fifth: during the four years that he serves in the Service, he will be entitled to all perks/privileges that are available today to any personnel. On completion of his tenure, and in the event of his returning to civvy street, he would not be going out empty-handed; rather he will have a lump-sum of Rs 11 lakhs or thereabouts (tax free), plus his savings of four years, to start life afresh.

The next step is to address the politicians’ arguments that the GoI is playing around with the security of the nation, through the implementation of this scheme, by trying to save money on pensions and other pecuniary benefits due to the Services. This is an absolutely unfounded statement, with an aim to garner popularity and, if I may say so, votes. The savings in the pensionary budget would be visible only after about 15 years from today, when the first lot of those who have been inducted in 2021-22, in regular service, as per existing rules and regulations, begin to hang their uniforms, after becoming eligible for pensionary benefits. The year would be 2037-2040!

There are some doubts in the minds of a few of my former colleagues, which do merit attention. It is agreed that the Agnipath scheme is a huge change from the existing system, and will, hence, have some teething problems in the implementation phase and create doubts in the minds of some. First: for the Army, which has always been recruiting from specific regions, to convert to the new system of an all-India all-class (AIAC) basis, is going to be difficult. I am quite sure in my mind, the HR department of the Army will get over this mindset, and the region-based intakes, already in service, will fine-tune the new inductees to instil a sense of honour for the regiments. After all, the intake into the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) battalions, is a mixed intake, albeit from existing, trained soldiers from other arms and services. The RR is an excellent example of an efficient conversion of manpower, without sacrificing operational efficiency. The new inductees, under the AIAC policies, would be absorbed into the regional/class regiments, with a little tweak here and there. Like I said earlier, allow the scheme to at least take-off! Second: there is a doubt in some minds that optimisation of manpower may affect optimisation of combat power between the three Services. The three Services are, to my mind, quite well on the path to integrating their resources in domains, such as, missiles, drones, counter-drones and other modern technology-based platforms, not just amongst themselves, but also with those who do not necessarily fall within the ambit of the military, but, nevertheless, are engaged in national security tasks.

Agnipath is new for India, but is being followed in many nations across the world, on a voluntary basis (as Agnipath), or on a conscript basis, modified to their needs

Agnipath is new for India, but is being followed in many nations across the world, on a voluntary basis (as Agnipath), or on a conscript basis, modified to their needs. A quick look at some of these militaries. USA: with a strength of about 14 lakh soldiers, the induction is all-voluntary, for an initial enrolment of about four years active service, and another four years as reservists; the latter have to put in some weeks of training per annum, just as the requirement exists for some of our territorial Army units too (MS Dhoni has done it!). The soldiers can opt for continuing for the full tenure, and would then be eligible for pension after 20 years. Those retiring early, get reduced perks, decided on a case-to-case basis. Russia: a country in the limelight now, has a dual system of conscription and contractual inductions. Conscripts, after a year of training and another year of service, are then placed on the reserve list. These form the base from where recruitment of soldiers is done, as the need arises. Soldiers are also given preferential admissions to universities and in-service educational institutions. China: another country of interest to us, has a full-conscription model, with about 4.5 lakh conscripts inducted annually. These conscripts have to serve for two years, after a basic training of 40 days! Specialised training, as per the individual skills and requirement of the units, follows thereafter. The number retained for full service is not known, but then that is how China works! There are other nations too, such as, France, Israel, South Korea, which have similar systems, adjusted to meet their requirements, just as the Agnipath has been made to suit the needs of the Indian Armed Forces.

For these ‘expressions of interest’ to be translated into action, these companies could have certain induction-based-incentives (IBI) from the government and a fixed quota for an annual induction to qualify for the IBI

The media is carrying heated debates on the efficacy, or the lack of it, of the newly-announced scheme. The information is half-baked, since the scheme is yet to take-off. Some announcements today in the newspapers state that the three Services will be signing a MoU with the IGNOU to provide credits for selected courses, for those who exit the scheme after four years. This is a welcome move, as it will give preferential admissions to such courses and an opportunity for the exiting soldier to pursue further studies/vocational courses. Another announcement, again, if I may say so, is more political. Some States have announced that those leaving after four years would be given “priority in police and affiliated jobs, and other State schemes”; a noble gesture, but the gesture may not translate into action four years from today, when the administration may have changed. To lend permanency and a degree of assurance, the GoI (for CAPF and Assam Rifles posts), and State governments (for the posts mentioned above) issue a mandate on these lines, for those de-inducted from the Agnipath scheme. Similarly, some private and public sector companies have expressed their interest in absorb such personnel into their organisations. For these ‘expressions of interest’ to be translated into action, these companies could have certain induction-based-incentives (IBI) from the government and a fixed quota for an annual induction to qualify for the IBI.

Only then will the fire (agni) be doused, and the process (path) move ahead.

–The writer is an IAF veteran. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda

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