Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday unveiled the “Agnivir” policy for the recruitment of soldiers into the Indian Armed Forces.
Under the new policy, non-commissioned officers (NCOs) will be recruited for a period of four years, of which 25 percent of the soldiers will be retained for other services on a permanent basis while the rest will be laid off.
The 25% of personnel retained after four years should serve for at least 15 more years, according to the Ministry of Defense.
While the government says the policy would transform the armed forces into a younger, tech-savvy army, critics said it would take away job security and the 75% of personnel released each year would have serious consequences for society because they would be a group of unemployed militarized individuals.
Here we explain the idea behind the policy, its features, what the government said and what the critics say.
Idea behind Agnipath
The Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday that Agnipath’s policy aims to create young and technologically advanced armed forces. The policy has also been called “Tour of Duty”, with the MoD saying it shouldn’t be called that.
“This will provide an opportunity for young people who wish to step into the uniform by attracting young talent from society more in tune with contemporary technological trends and reinjecting a skilled, disciplined and motivated workforce back into society,” said defense. ministry in a statement.
However, it has been reported that the new recruiting policy is aimed at reducing the salaries and pensions of the armed forces, which have increased so much in recent years that they leave little money for capital expenditure. Indeed, soldiers released after four years will not receive a pension or benefits for life.
In the 2022-23 budget, the defense component was Rs 5,25,166 crore, of which the pension amounted to Rs 1,19,696 crore – 22%.
Once the 75% of soldiers leave the service after four years, the idea is that they would be qualified enough to be employed in the private sector. Additionally, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday that several ministries, public sector companies and state governments had said they would prioritize these soldiers to fill vacancies with them.
Features of Agnipath
Agnipath’s policy would recruit both men and women in the 17.5 to 21 age bracket.
Physical, medical and educational standards would remain unchanged.
The soldiers will be paid Rs 30,000 per month in the first year of service, which will increase to 40,000 in the fourth year. Of this, they would contribute 30% and the government would match that amount for a corpus they would receive upon their release, amounting to Rs 11.71 lakhs.
The exit package of Rs 11.71 lakhs, dubbed Seva Nidhi, would be tax-free. The soldiers will also have a non-contributory life insurance cover of Rs 48 lakhs for the duration of their service.
Recruitment and subsequent absorption of 25% of soldiers would be centralized.
“Registration will be through a centralized online system for the three services with specialist gatherings and interviews at the campuses of recognized technical institutes such as the Industrial Training Institutes and the National Vocational Qualifications Framework, among others,” said the Ministry of Defense.
The first group of Agnipath soldiers, nicknamed Agnivirs, would be recruited this year, totaling 46,000. It will begin in 90 days from Tuesday. In particular, the recruitment of the military has been suspended for more than two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Recruitment will also be on an “All India, All Classes” format, unlike the caste and class based recruitment of the British era.
“To explain, class specific regiments like Sikhs, Rajputs, Jats or Maratha would be affected as they would see youths from other classes being inducted,” noted The Tribune newspaper.
Criticism of the Agnipath policy
While Union ministers and officials from the Bharatiya Janata Party called the policy “revolutionary” that will usher in a “golden tomorrow”, critics said it would spell “the death knell” for the military and lead to many crises.
Experts have also expressed concern that releasing 75% of soldiers every four years could lead to a shortage of experienced personnel in the forces.
Lieutenant General (Retired) PR Shankar wrote in a blog post: “In essence, the tour of duty proposal is expecting a superman from a kindergarten. We may be producing an Abhimanyu but he does not will not come out of the Chakravyuhu. After five years of duty tour, Arjuns will not be available in our next Mahabharata. Peak units will not be able to fight. There are no finalists in the war.
Former Director General of Military Operations Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia said this would lead to the “militarization” of society as trained and unemployed soldiers are released every year.
He said: “The death knell of the armed forces, ToD untested, No pilot project, direct implementation. ex-Agnivirs trained in weapons. It’s not a good idea. Nobody wins.
It was also pointed out that the idea that soldiers released after four years would easily find jobs in the private sector is wrong.
I led the job placement campaign for 64 retired tri-service OFFICERS aged 26-54 at IIM Ahmedabad. Our success rate was 1 response to about 100 emails approaching companies for jobs, after trying all the marketing tricks in the book. This general will find out by floating his CV. https://t.co/urnaTyRx37
— Kaypius (@realkaypius) June 14, 2022
Experts have also shared that four years is too little time for a soldier to invest heavily in his unit or with his comrades.
“The Indian Army is fighting for ‘paltan ki izzat’. For most civilians and/or those who haven’t seen combat, if anyone expects a four person in service understand, let alone climb over 18,000 feet, undershoot and fight, then they are either delusional or misinformed,” said Saikat Datta, strategic adviser at think tank The Dialogue, on Twitter.