Agnipath scheme-Concerns and Way Forward- Explained Pointwise

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The Agnipath scheme, launched on June 14, 2022, is currently operational. The initial batch of Agniveers  has finished their training and joined different units of the armed forces.The scheme has faced criticism, especially from veterans, for various reasons.

It also became a major political issue in the recently concluded Lok Sabha election, especially in states like Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan, where the Armed Forces are a popular choice for employment. The Principal opposition block in the elections campaigned against this recruitment scheme, which seemed to strike a chord with voters of the above-mentioned states.

Since no single political party could secure a clear majority in the recently held Lok Sabha election, significant allies of the ruling dispensation are pushing for a review of the contentious recruitment plan. In the backdrop of these changed realities, Agnipath scheme warrants a thorough investigation into its pros and cons.

What is Agnipath scheme?

1) Introduction-It is a short-service manpower model under which around 45,000 to 50,000 soldiers will be recruited annually. Of these, 75% will leave the service in four years. 25% will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission. At present, all sailors, airmen, and soldiers, except the technical cadre of the medical branch, are recruited to the services under the scheme, which has also opened doors for the recruitment of women to the IAF and the Navy.

2) Broad objectives of Agnipath scheme

A) To enhance youthful profile of the Armed Forces so that they are at their best fighting abilities, and increased risk taking ability, at all times.
B) To bring in young talent from society who can effectively use new technologies and have higher technical skills, using the country’s technical institutions.
C) To provide an opportunity to the youth who may be keen to serve the Nation in uniform albeit for a short period of time.
D) To imbibe the Armed Forces ethos, camaraderie, commitment and teamwork in the youth.
E) To provide abilities and qualities such as discipline, dynamism, motivation and work-skills so that the youth remains an asset.

3) Post Demobilisation Employment Opportunities-

Job opportunities
Source-PIB

What is the significance of Agnipath scheme?

1) Leaner and Younger Force-It will reduce the permanent force size significantly for the country’s armed forces, which currently consist of over 13 lakh personnel. Only 25% of recruits will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission. This change is expected to lower the average age in the forces from 32 to 26 within the next 6 to 7 years.

2) Reducing Defense Expenditure: A leaner military and reduced benefits will significantly lower the defense budget, which has been a major concern for governments for many years. Over the past decade, Pay and Allowances (P&A) and Pension expenses have increased from 50% to 55%, while the portion allocated to acquisition and stores expenditure has decreased.Reserch and Development, which is critical for the self-reliance and has been aggressively pushed by the government through  its ‘Make in India’ initiative and Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, hovers at a meagre 3-4 percent . In 2022-23, P&A and Pension will make up 79% of the Ministry of Defence’s total revenue expenditure.

Broad Distribution of the MoD’s Expenditure, 2013/14-2022/23

Source-Observer Research Foundation

3) Investment in Modern Warfare-The saved money can be utilized to buy state-of-art technology and equipment which are the backbone of modern warfare. With its implementation, the military will become a  future-ready fighting force, capable of meeting multiple challenges across the full spectrum of conflict

Military Strength Agnipath Scheme UPSC

Source: Mint

4) All India, All Class Recruitment:This will make recruitment into the armed forces more inclusive by allowing enrolment from all parts of the country and all sections of society. This is important for the Army, which currently follows a regiment system based on region and caste.

5) Ensuring rotation of troops-The scheme aims to rotate soldiers more frequently by having shorter terms. This prevents stagnation and brings in new talent and skills regularly, ensuring a disciplined rotation of troops.

6) Adhoc Buffer Force: The ex-agniveers could act as an adhoc buffer force who may be called to serve again for boosting national security in times of external/internal threats.

7) Providing skilled workforce: After serving for 4 years, the ‘Agniveers’ (the temporary soldiers) would be discharged, and it is expected that they would contribute to the skilled workforce in various sectors, given their disciplined training and exposure

8) Following theTrend Towards Personnel Reduction and Increased Capital Expenditure-There is a trend towards reduction in the number of personnel and emphasis on increasing capital expenditure on modern weapons and equipment in major countries.
For ex-the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) underwent a massive demobilization from the 1980s onwards, bringing down total numbers from 4.5 million to about 2 million, with the focus on.

What are the concerns associated with Agnipath scheme?

1) Protests and opposition: The Agnipath scheme has faced widespread protests and opposition from various sections, including potential recruits, ex-servicemen, and political parties. There are concerns about the job security, pension benefits, and future prospects of the “Agniveers” after their four-year tenure.

2) Increase in training capacities and infrastructure:-With a constant inflow of new Agniveers every year, there will be a need to significantly enhance training capacities and infrastructure to accommodate their basic and advanced training requirements.

3) Augmentation of administrative setup-The scheme will require an augmentation and strengthening of the administrative machinery to handle the increased recruitment, periodic release after 4 years, and retention of 25% of the Agniveers for longer service.

4) Impact on Armed Forces Structure and Soldier Motivation– The change from Class-Based Recruitment Replaced with All-India All-Class Recruitment could harm the armed forces because it affects their managerial and operational effeciency. Indian Army soldiers, though trained well, also find motivation in their social identity, caring about their reputation among peers in their caste, village, or social group.

5) Weaken Unit Cohesion and Combat Effectiveness-Technology and advanced weapon systems alone cannot guarantee success in combat. As seen in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Israel-Hamas conflict, technological superiority can be countered by the adversary’s technological measures. Thus, the human element, conventional combat tactics, and interpersonal bonding among soldiers can not be overlooked to prepare the army for modern warfare.

6) Capability Drawbacks-Agniveers undergo limited training of six months. Veterans and analysts doubt whether units would entrust Agniveers with tasks like handling ammunition, ordnance, weapons, and classified stores, or undertaking repairs on combat vehicles and artillery.

7) Unhealthy Competition Among Agniveers-Training, integrating, and deploying soldiers with varying experience levels and motivations could pose significant challenges. Selecting the 25% of short-term contracted soldiers to be retained may lead to unhealthy competition.If not addressed, this could become a serious issue and harm the unit’s health in the long run.

8) Recruitment by Inimical Elements-There are concerns that after their discharge, Agniveers could be vulnerable to recruitment by inimical elements like Naxalites, insurgents, militants, and gangsters for nefarious purposes

9) Personnel Shortages and Resource Utilization-The Army, along with the other two services, is short of about 1,55,000 personnel, with the Army having the most vacancies at 1,36,000. The Agnipath scheme aims to fill these positions, which are mostly non-officer combat roles. Releasing 75% of trained recruits after four years of service in this context would be a waste of resources.

10) Rehabilitation of Agniveers-

A) The bond between a soldier and the state is called the ‘military covenant.’ Soldiers risk their lives to protect national interests, and in return, the nation promises them respect, recognition, gratitude, and fair compensation for their sacrifices. This connection is vital for keeping militaries strong, and it’s important that the Agniveers don’t feel neglected after their service.

B) If Agniveers don’t receive adequate support after leaving the military, it might make a career in uniform less appealing. This could lower the quality of recruits joining the military. Also, if trained soldiers are discharged each year without employment, it could be risky if they become unemployed and frustrated. Some fear this could lead to increased militarization of society.

What should be the way forward?

1) Raising Age Limit and Permanent Retention Quota:-The Indian Army proposed extending the service period from 4 years to 7-8 years for Agniveers. It suggested raising the entry age for Agniveers in technical roles to 23 years and increasing the percentage of Agniveers transitioning to regular service after 4 years from 25 percent to 60-70 percent.

2) Nurturing the Human Element-The facets of the human element in Agniveers need to be addressed by the leaders responsible for their training and assessment. Value-based nurturing based on unit ethos needs to commence from the outset, irrespective of technological advancements in warfare.

3) Incorporation of Psychological Testing-There is a need to introduce psychological test as part of the recruitment process, similar to the methodology used for officer selection in the military. This will help unit commanders manage human resources better and facilitate the grooming and assessment of Agniveers.

4) Continuous Preparation for Combat and Integration of Agniveers-In combat, a military unit must perform well. Preparation for facing the enemy happens continuously and doesn’t wait for actual combat. Likewise, unit commanders should focus on integrating Agniveers into the unit and ensuring that they work well as part of the team.

5) Fostering Unit Cohesion through Character Development:-To enhance unit pride and cohesion, there should be focus on individual character development, as it forms the foundation of discipline, motivation, and teamwork, essential for battlefield strength and unit camaraderie.

6) Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide-The military is highly respected for its role in national security. The beginning of Agniveer recruitment marks a move towards creating a citizen’s army. Agnipath should help young people learn more about the military, bridging the gap between military and civilian life.

7) Enhanced Entitelements & Benefits-

A)They should be covered under contributory pension and generous gratuity scheme.Ex-gratia should be provided for disability during training. Moreover, if an Agniveer dies in war, their family should receive a subsistence allowance.

B) They should get opportunities in other security forces, veteran status, and preference for government jobs. Around 25-30% of soldiers should be retained through a transparent, merit-based system, with the option for voluntary extension.

8) Implement robust skilling and resettlement programs:-Developing robust skilling and resettlement programs in collaboration with the private sector and other government agencies could help ensure a smooth transition for “Agniveers” into civilian life after their tenure.The government may bring a legislation that mandates compulsory absorption of agniveers by private employers and corporates.

9) Enhancing Educational Standards –Educational requirements should be raised to 10+2, and a more rigorous national entrance exam should be implemented.

Read More-Indian Express,The Hindu

UPSC Syllabus-GS Paper-3-Various Security Forces and Agencies and their Mandate

Read more-On the Challenges with the Agnipath Scheme – It is the conditioning of the Agniveer that merits attention

 

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