The government recently unveiled its new Agnipath scheme for recruiting soldiers across the three services.
About Agnipath Scheme
- The new defence recruitment reform, which has been cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security, will come into effect immediately, and the soldiers recruited under the scheme will be called Agniveers.
- Under the new scheme, around 45,000 to 50,000 soldiers will be recruited annually, and most will leave the service in just four years.
- Of the total annual recruits, only 25 per cent will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission.
- 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, considerably reduce the defence pension bill, which has been a major concern for governments for many years.
What is the eligibility criteria?
- The new system is only for personnel below officer ranks (those who do not join the forces as commissioned officers).
- Under the Agnipath scheme, aspirants between the ages of 17.5 years and 21 years will be eligible to apply.
- The recruitment standards will remain the same, and recruitment will be done twice a year through rallies.
- Candidates below 18 years of age will have to get their enrolment forms signed by their parents or guardians.
- Medical and physical fitness standards will continue in accordance with existing norms for different categories and trades in the military.
- The required educational qualification will be Class 10-12, depending on the service and assigned role. For instance, the educational qualification required for entry into General Duty soldier is Class 10.
What happens after selection?
- Once selected, the aspirants will go through training for six months and then will be deployed for three and a half years.
- During this period, they will get a starting salary of Rs 30,000, along with additional benefits which will go up to Rs 40,000 by the end of the four-year service.
- Importantly, during this period, 30 per cent of their salary will be set aside under a Seva Nidhi programme, and the government will contribute an equal amount every month, and it will also accrue interest.
- At the end of the four-year period, each soldier will get Rs 11.71 lakh as a lump sum amount, which will be tax-free.
- They will also get a Rs 48 lakh life insurance cover for the four years.
- In case of death, the payout will be over Rs 1 crore, including pay for the unserved tenure.
- However, after four years, only 25 per cent of the batch will be recruited back into their respective services, for a period of 15 years.
- For those who are re-selected, the initial four-year period will not be considered for retirement benefits.
When will the recruitment actually begin?
- Recruitment will begin within 90 days under the scheme which will bring “all India, all class” recruitment to the services.
- This is especially significant for the Army, where the regiment system has region and caste bases, and with time that will be eliminated to allow anybody from any caste, region, class or religious background to become part of existing regiments.
How will the scheme benefit the armed forces and the recruits?
- The average age in the forces is 32 years today, which will go down to 26 in six to seven years, the scheme envisions.
- It will create “future-ready” soldiers.
- A youthful armed forces will allow them to be easily trained for new technologies.
- It will increase employment opportunities and because of the skills and experience acquired during the four-year service such soldiers will get employment in various fields..
- This will also lead to availability of a higher-skilled workforce to the economy which will be helpful in productivity gain and overall GDP growth.
- The government will help rehabilitate soldiers who leave the services after four years. They will be provided with skill certificates and bridge courses. The impetus will be to create entrepreneurs.
- The youth recruited under the Agnipath scheme will get priority in recruitment to the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and Assam Rifles.
- The CAPF comprises the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), and the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP), which are under the administrative and operational control of the MHA.
- The Assam Rifles deployed along the Myanmar border is under the administrative control of the MHA.
Can an Agniveer leave service at any time?
- No. As per the brief shared by the Air Force, an Agniveer will not be permitted to leave the service before completing the engagement period. “…except in exceptional cases, with approval of the Competent Authority.
Concerns over Agnipath scheme
- Several defence experts, however, have raised concern over the Agnipath model and the future of Agniveers, asking the Government to fix gaps, which could have an adverse impact on the capabilities of the defence services.
- They point out that the reform is primarily being introduced to slash the growing salary and pension bills of the three services.
- Will also lead to Militarization of society, nearly 40,000(75%) youth year on year back rejected & dejected without a job, semi trained in arms ex Agniveers.
- Military life and career can’t be evaluated from money saved to the exchequer. Looking to be difficult to implement the scheme, with negative connotations in all aspects.
- Concerns have also been raised about the employability of the 75% who will return to the civil world after serving for four years in the armed forces.
- Its short-term (four-year stint), contractual nature (with only 25% absorbed into the Indian armed forces after the four-year term) and no provision for pension were some of the issues.
- As 75% of soldiers will become ‘unemployed’ after four years and their total numbers will keep rising every year, it will give rise to more disaffection among the youth.
- Corporate sector had not shown much interest in hiring even the regular military personnel who retired after 15 years.
- Four years of service will disrupt their education, and they will also face difficulties in getting another job or more education as they will be older to others with similar qualification.
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