Published: Published Date – 12:48 AM, Thu – 16 June 22

Touted as the historic reform in the recruitment policy for armed forces, the new scheme ‘Agnipath’, a short-term appointment of soldiers on a contractual basis, will certainly help in reducing the burgeoning defence pension burden and giving a more youthful look to the defence forces. However, there are certain concerns that need to be addressed to ensure its success. A key concern is that the length of the tenure and training period may not be sufficient to meet the operational and organisational needs of the defence forces. There are also concerns about the combat-readiness of the new recruits, their levels of motivation, and whether the prospect of a short tenure will make them risk-averse. Unless the government does the required hand-holding, there is going to be uncertainty regarding the future prospects of the military-trained young men and women when they return to the civilian population after four years of service. The recruitment changes, however lofty the intentions may be, must be in sync with holistic reforms flowing out of the National Security Strategy, to transform the armed forces, particularly with respect to optimisation of manpower and restructuring the organisation. Under the new scheme, about 50,000 soldiers will be recruited annually in the age group 17 to 21 years with a maximum annual salary up to Rs 5 lakh and insurance benefits for a period of four years. Of the total annual recruits, only 25% will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission and the rest will be given a consolidated, tax-free severance pay of Rs 11.70 lakh, without pension, and some assistance to find alternative employment.

The new scheme is likely to replace the existing recruitment processes for personnel lower than officer rank in the Army, Navy and Air Force. The move will make the permanent force levels much leaner for the over 13-lakh strong armed forces in the country. This will, in turn, significantly reduce the defence pension bill, which has been a major concern for successive governments for many years. The average age in the forces is 32 years today, which will go down to 26 in the next six to seven years. The primary motivation for the scheme appears to be the reduction of the burgeoning pension bill of the armed forces. Additional advantages cited by the government include reducing the age profile of the armed forces, improving career prospects of regular soldiers, instilling sterling military character qualities and nationalism among the youth and providing an opportunity for the youth to fulfil their aspiration of serving in the armed forces. A significant change that ‘Agnipath’ will usher in is to bring “all India, all class” recruitment to the services into the Army where the current regiment system has region and caste bases.

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