Monitor issues, allay concerns
In the most significant recruitment policy departure for the armed forces in decades, the government announced on Tuesday a new scheme, Agnipath, under which young people will be enrolled for four years. Only a fourth of this intake will eventually be absorbed into the force, and the rest will be given severance pay (though without pension) and some assistance to find alternative employment. In the first 12 months, around 46,000 agniveers will be recruited, the three service chiefs said. The new scheme is likely to replace the existing recruitment processes for personnel lower than officer rank.
As articulated by the chiefs and defence minister Rajnath Singh, the Agnipath scheme has several upsides. It is likely to infuse new and youthful energy into the armed forces, create new sources of employment (salaries will begin at ₹4.76 lakh and go up to ₹6.92 lakh, with life insurance and a corpus fund), enhance the combat potential of the forces, and build a legion of technologically savvy soldiers — many of whom will also be women. Some analysts have also indicated that it is likely to trim the government’s hefty defence pension bill. And yet, some concerns remain, especially focused on the combat-readiness of the new recruits, their levels of motivation, and whether the prospect of a short tenure will make them risk averse. Some veterans have also expressed worry about tinkering with the regimented structure of the forces — the new step will change the composition of several British-era regiments that recruited soldiers from specific castes such as Jats, Rajputs and Sikhs, and create an All-India, All-Class system — and the future prospects of the military trained young men and women when they return to the civilian population. To be sure, some other countries such as Israel, China and Russia also have differing models of short-term conscription.
India’s armed forces have been her pride, delivering through challenges and difficulties over the decades, and making a mark for its professionalism and courage. Reforms and changes according to the need of the time are important, particularly in an era where combat has changed from being personnel-intensive to being driven by technology and tactical weapons. At the same time, discussion and deliberative processes are equally crucial. As the new scheme is rolled out, a flexible stance from both the government and stakeholders will be key to its successful implementation.