Agnipath: Need of the hour

Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, PVSM AVSM VM (Retd.)
Agniveer scheme heralds a new era in the journey of National defence having a direct bearing on defence forces as well as the youth of the Nation which are two integral pillars of a Nation-State. The scheme, announced during a press conference by Ministry of Defence which was chaired by Hon’ble Raksha Mantri and the dais was shared by all the three service chiefs, have been commented upon by different sections of the society putting forward their own views, narratives as well apprehensions in different measures highlighting numerous pros as well as cons.
In an ever-evolving world, change is the only constant. At the same time, resistance to change is an integral aspect of human nature which needs to be kept in mind. Before proceeding any further let’s take a look at the broad outline of the scheme.
Agniveer Scheme, as per the Government announcements, will be the new recruitment route for all recruitments in Personal Below Officers Rank Category, commonly called as PBORs, in all the three services.  Eligible candidates in the age group of 17½ to 21 years will be recruited for a fixed period of 4 years.  After four years, all the Agniveers will be given a choice to apply for a regular engagement in their respective forces. However, only 25% volunteer Agniveers will be absorbed on regular engagement.
First of all, let’s consider the likely impact of the scheme on the defence services since questions have been raised on the utilisation of Agniveers and its impact on the operational capacity and war waging potential of the services.
IAF is a technology-centric modern air force with all combat platforms, equipment as well as weapon systems functioning in a networked environment.  IAF requires young and adaptable minds with contemporary technology knowhow so that they can be trained in emerging technologies in the least possible time.  Moreover, as the life cycles of emerging technologies are getting compressed and reducing with every passing day, frequent inductions for a short duration are more logical vis-à-vis inductions with longer commitments. A shorter induction period gives a decision-making option to both the aspirants as well as services after a period of four years.
 No such option was available in the erstwhile system. As a result, on the one hand a section of youth was apprehensive of exercising the option of joining services owing to a minimum commitment of 15-20 years, and on the other, services were also facing certain challenges in re-skilling senior/older people in emerging technologies.  Frequent induction of young people and reduction in average age of combatants will auger well for the services.
Reduction in average age of the combatants, commonly called as Air Warriors in the IAF will be a major advantage for the services.  Indeed, there would be a requirement to tweak the training durations, patterns as well as posting profiles of Agniveers vis-à-vis existing system.
Defence services are the last bastions of National defence and no one should have any doubts, whatsoever, on the vision and planning of the service Chiefs.
The services, by now, must have deliberated upon all the dimensions of the new scheme including training patterns and operational utilisation. There would be no dilution whatsoever at any level. All citizens of India must be rest assured that defence forces will prove themselves every time and in every aspect whenever they are called upon to do so.
The other primary stakeholder is the country’s youth.  Let’s consider youth’s aspirations as well as interests.  The financial package announced by the Govt is much higher than what best of the corporates offer to a 10th or 12th pass young adult.
The fresh recruit will get Rs 30,000/- per month and in addition, Rs. 9000/- per month will be contributed by the Govt towards his Sewa Nidhi. Additionally, every year, there would be a rise of about 10% in the salary. It is pertinent to highlight that most of the routine day-to-day requirements including boarding, lodging, medical facilities etc are looked after by the services hence Agniveer would not be required to spend any money on these aspects. Since very less portion of the income would be going towards the cost of living, most of the component of the salary could be saved. In addition, after completion of four years, every Agniveer will get more than Rs 11 lakh, as his Sewa Nidhi account matures.
Besides, financial benefits, this scheme will also meet other aspirations of the youth which includes pride, self-respect, upgrading of skills as well as educational qualifications in line with new NEP 2020.
As has already been brought out by Min of Education, UGC and IGNOU will be maximising the provisions of NEP 2020 to create mechanism and options for the Agniveers to upgrade their educational qualifications. This in turn would facilitate the second innings of those who would not be absorbed by the services on regular engagement. Ministry of Home is already in the process of rolling out a scheme to absorb these young and skilled citizens in Central Armed Police Forces.
They will also have options to look for a decent job in Govt sector, industry, IT Sector as well as the corporate world or to start a venture of their own by utilizing their Sewa Nidhi.
Lastly, Agnipath scheme will have a phenomenal intangible contribution to nation building. The inculcation of qualities of discipline, honesty, josh, esprit de-corps, service before self, Nation first attitude in the young and impressionable minds will be a significant game changer to Nation building in the many ways.
In my opinion, this scheme is a win-win situation for the services as well as youth of the Nation and at a higher level its contribution to Nation building will be phenomenal.