Agniveer: A Trial by Fire for the Military
In a Press release on June 14th, the Ministry of Defence announced that the Union Cabinet has approved., “an attractive recruitment scheme for Indian youth to serve in the Armed Forces”.
Called AGNIPATH the youth selected under this scheme will be known as “Agniveers,” bravehearts who have been through the test of fire.
AGNIPATH allows patriotic and motivated youth to serve in the Armed Forces for a period of four years as per the scheme which is said to be “designed to enable a youthful profile of the Armed Forces”.
The scheme provides,” an opportunity to the youth who may be keen to don the uniform by attracting young talent from the society who are more in tune with contemporary technological trends and plough back skilled, disciplined and motivated manpower into the society”.
Overall the nation is to benefit with the scheme by infusion of youth with an understanding of, “self-discipline, diligence and focus who would be adequately skilled and will be able to contribute in other sectors”.
The aim is to inculcate, “patriotism, team work, enhancement of physical fitness, ingrained loyalty for the country and availability of trained personnel to boost national security in times of external threats, internal threats and natural disasters”.
The policy is to come into immediate effect and governs the enrolment of the three services.
On Benefits to the Agniveers
On benefits to the Agniveers or the conscripts the scheme talks of “attractive customised monthly package along with Risk and Hardship allowances as applicable in the three services”.
They will be given a severance package on completion of terms of engagement which will “comprise their contribution including accrued interest thereon and matching contribution from the Government equal to the accumulated amount of their contribution including interest”
The total package on exit is expected to be Rs 11.71 lakhs at the end of four years which will be exempt from Income Tax.
The selection will be done by the armed forces and 46,000 agniveers will be recruited in the first year.
So far so good.
After the four year tenure, 25 % will be eligible for enrolment under normal terms and conditions for all ranks in the three services.
Indeed, a scheme that is designed to keep the military young and provide a turnover of 75 % in trained soldiers may seem to be ideal.
However military concerns arise from several factors many of which have been highlighted in the debate over Agnipath scheme that has been ongoing in the mainstream and social media for some time now. Here are at least six issues of concern outlined briefly-
Firstly, the scheme is not driven by the necessity to recruit for a military which requires to train soldiers for combat and fight with regimental affiliation on the toughest battlefields in the World.
The number of years of training and commitment required for such a scenario are not four but certainly over 10 to 15 years.
Secondly a “conscript,” army for combat in a military that is committed to war fighting on a semi permanent basis as the Indian Armed forces raises questions of operational proficiency.
The recent performance of the Russian armed forces in the war in Ukraine denotes that conscription does not work, full time committed soldiers or “contracted,” as the Russians say are required.
Thirdly making the scheme work is expected to place pressure on the military which at present is hard placed on a two front challenge – India and China. Restructuring the force amidst operational commitment needs consideration.
Fourthly building military technical skills for instance of a midshipman in the Navy or a technician in the air force requires years of training and experience. Just as these men are about to be effective they are being shed off leaving a gap in the trained manpower. A deeper examination of this aspect should have been undertaken in the first place.
Fifthly if the aim is to keep the force youthful and yet employ the military skills an alternate option of side stepping the soldier after four to five years is available to the central and state police forces rather than directly to the civil street.
Sixthly as has been highlighted very aptly by senior defence correspondent Mr Rahul Bedi in an article in the Wire quoting a number of retired policy and military veterans a percentage of those release could well turn to joining insurgents and criminal groups as trained fighters
Now that the government has decided the Agniveer scheme will be implemented., military brass including officers, the junior and non commissioned officers and the senior soldiers will have the onus that the operational readiness and combat proficiency of the armed forces is sustained.
For this factor has not been accounted for in the Agnipath scheme at least it is not evident in the press release of the Ministry of Defence.