The Agnipath Yojana : Deify or demonise?

Paojakhup Guite
In what appears to be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Government at the Centre to cause a tectonic policy blitzkrieg(s) in each of five-year stint, it announced the scheme called Agnipath in its second innings on June 14. The first innings (2014-2019) had witnessed a demonetisation exercise in 2016. A common peculiarity about these two announcements is that they were done so without any debate in Parliament, or for that matter in a relevant Parliamentary Standing Committee.
The Agnipath scheme is envisioned for both male and female aspirants.There have since been a series of agitations for a rollback of the scheme in such States as Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, Telanga and the like, thereby even snowballing into a Nation-wide strike on June 20 spearheaded by unidentified organisanisatons opposing the scheme.
Agnipath (literally, the Path of Fire) is a new recruitment system of Indian armed forces and is a route to serve in the country’s military. The recruits under this scheme will be known as Agniveers (Fire Warriors). The Agniveers will be recruited for ranks below commissioned officers. The non—officer Agniveers will be recruited only through Agnipath as soldiers, sailors and air men into the Army, Navy and Air Force respectively for a period of four years during which they will undergo rigorous trainings in different walks of the tri-services of the armed forces. The short-term contractual recruitment will be within the productive age group of 17.5 to 21 years (the upper age limit has been raised to 23 years for this year only, following wide protests by young aspirants across the country). By and large, Agnipath douses the fire in the belly of the prime targets to serve the country in the line of defence. Under the scheme, the 75 % decommissioned Agniveers are deprived of pensions, health or education benefits. Same are with those 25 % who will be permanently commissioned for another 15 years- will meet the same fate post-retirement.
Fragility vs Agility
To march miles requires agility for a soldier, sailor or airman. The existing recruitment system is such that some military personnel become inactive in physique the longer he or she serves in the force. The soft and flabby nature of the redundant recruitment system is a cause for concern. This fragility of armed or non-armed personnel in the tri-services increases from bad to worse over a period of time, while also the fiscal burden eats into the exchequer (defence budget). More than half of the total expenditures on defence goes to pensions and salaries annually with no remunerative physical fitness in sight of the personnel.
The Agnipath scheme is moving in the right direction in choosing the 17.5 to 21 age group, beyond which is not trustworthy of physical fitness.
Technological warfare cannot always be trotted out as an excuse to replace manual humankind. There have been enough man-to-man encounter cases across the India-China border between the two Armies.
Man and technology should work in unison to ensure a seamless and hassle-free security. This would bring about efficiency and effectiveness in the execution of the needful security of the land.
However, a caveat cannot be ruled out in the case of Navy and Air force. Unlike in the Army where acquiring skills is quite relatively easier, the two forces require time to gain the requisite skills in handling both the software and hardware aspects of the two forces. Equipment such as arms and ammunitions are technical in operation, that they require more time and energy to get hands-on expertise. The Government could rectify this lacuna through a lateral entry which is devoted exclusively to deal with the technical aspects of the forces with a proviso of a permanent commissioning. The Government can do this before the first commencement of the scheme that begins September this year.
Employment and Honour
Defence Ministry provides a dual hope to ambitious young aspirants. There are a group of young men who distinctively conceive of serving the country in the line of military. Administrations ranging from bureaucracy to diplomacy alone are not taken as a platform to serve the Nation. For them to be inducted in the military is more of pride and honour, and in serving in this capacity, they even feel complacent looking no more for employment alternatives.
The Government justifies Agnipath on the ground that, Defence Ministry is not an employment generating agency is very unfortunate. The fact is that the youth of the country see to it more as an honour in finding one’s feet in the military.
No doubt, India’s unemployment rate reached an all-time high in double digits. Therefore, recruitment in the armed forces not for just on contract basis would do justice in fulfilling the job promises of the Modi Government. In 2014 being for the first time at the helm of Prime Ministership of the country, Narendra Modi had made many promises and one of which was to create 20 million new jobs every year. Agnipath has the potential to fulfil this job promise of Mr. Modi, but alas not to the likings of the job aspirants ! Agniveers will be recruited twice a year, which means most of the promised 20 million new jobs would then be contributed by Agnipath alone within a short period of time. This will result into what I call a cosmetic generation of jobs. In substance, jobs that are generated by the scheme would be insecure ones and is there a great likelihood of counter-production.
Therefore, taking the caveats into consideration, the Government should spare no efforts to give employment of more secure ones to more than half of the 900 million Indians of legal working age. India should tap on the demographic dividends sooner than later.
Hire and Fire
The 4-year contract-based Agnipath is infamous of its short tenure. The unemployed youth of the country are looking for a secure and permanently commissioned job. Their long standing hope of employment is being belied by the newly introduced recruitment system of the country’s armed forces. The young aspirants of the military force will turn out to be mere Agniveers for four years at worst while some to be Agniveers hardly for another fifteen years at best.
(To be contd)