DH Deciphers: After Agnipath scheme faces poll fire, govt allies call for review

Kalyan Ray explains the scheme, its current status, and what may happen to the programme.
Last Updated : 17 June 2024, 00:11 IST

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Nearly two years ago, the Union government replaced the traditional routes to recruit soldiers for the Indian Army, sailors for the Indian Navy and airmen for the Indian Air Force with a new short-term scheme that will force 75% of the new recruits to retire at the end of the fourth year, with a financial package. The scheme is called Agnipath and the recruits are known as Agniveers. There are now political demands from BJP allies to review the contentious scheme, which many believe have contributed to the loss of vote share for the alliance.

Kalyan Ray explains the scheme, its current status, and what may happen to the programme.

What’s the Agninath scheme?

The Union Cabinet in June 2022 unveiled the Agnipath programme to recruit soldiers (Agniveers) in the armed forces for an initial period of four years, after which three-fourth of them will hang the boots with a severance package of Rs 11.71 lakh while the rest will be absorbed as regular troops to serve at least 15 more years. The Agniveers are to get a monthly salary of Rs 30,000 in the first year, which will be progressively increased to Rs 40,000 in the fourth year. All Agniveers will get allowances like risk and hardship, ration, dress and travel. In case of death or disability while on duty, they will get compensation that includes a non-contributory life insurance of Rs 48 lakh, and an ex-gratia payment of Rs 44 lakh. They won’t get any pension benefits. The entry age for enrolment as an Agniveer is 17.5-21 years and the training period will be for 24 weeks.

How many Agniveers have been recruited so far?

In the Indian Army, around 39,000-40,000 Agniveers have joined so far. Another 30,000 will shortly join, while yet another 30,000 is undergoing training. Nearly 8,000 Agniveers including 1,100 women have been inducted in the Indian Navy and approximately 7,500 in the IAF.

Why are there protests against the scheme?

Earlier the soldiers were recruited to serve for a minimum of 17 years and retire with a life-long pension and other benefits. A job in the 'fauj' was considered one of the prized ones in many states and was a key social determinant in rural or peri-urban localities. The Agnipath scheme with four years of service with no pension and gratuity is no match to the pride and prestige associated earlier with a job in the armed forces. Also, since the government closed down all other legacy recruitment avenues, those who passed the armed forces entry examinations before June 2022 felt cheated. There are huge worries on the career prospects of those who will leave the service after four years. Even though the government announced reservations for Agniveers in certain types of jobs, it is not clear whether the steps taken so far are good enough to assuage the anger of Indian youth who look forward to a career in colour service.

What was the government’s logic to introduce the scheme?

The two main arguments were to reduce the age profile of the troops by six years and lower the Defence Ministry’s ballooning salary and pension bills. The average age of an Indian soldier currently is around 32 years. The scheme is meant to lower it to 26 years in the next 6-7 years. Also the programme is meant to substantially cut the defence ministry’s revenue budget, which is over-burdened from the implementation of the One Rank One Pension scheme. According to an estimate made by the Observer Research Foundation, an Agniveer costs the government Rs 175,656 less than a current OR (Other Ranks) every year. Assuming 60,000 Agniveers are inducted in a year, the total saving on salaries in a year will be upwards of Rs 1,000 crore, which will rise progressively as more and more are inducted.

Who made the review demand and what the government will do now?

Soon after a BJP-led coalition staked claim to form a government at the Centre, two allies Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) called for a review of the scheme, which the Narendra Modi-led BJP government had earlier described as “transformative” and refused to change. Earlier, Opposition parties like Congress and AAP demanded withdrawal of the scheme. Amid such calls, an internal assessment by the army shows lack of camaraderie among the Agniveers who compete with each other to be retained among the 25%. This is not a positive outcome and the top brass now contemplates ways to counter such behaviours. Options like increasing the training and service periods, and recruiting more Agniveers in the regular service are on the table for discussions to find a solution for the vexed issue.

Published 17 June 2024, 00:11 IST

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