Veterans raise concerns over Agnipath model, call for flexibility

Updated on Jun 15, 2022 03:32 AM IST

The Agnipath model seeks to lower the age profile of the three services, ensure a fitter military, and create a skilled and dynamic workforce for employment in other sectors.

The four-year service includes training for 10 weeks to six months. (AFP)
The four-year service includes training for 10 weeks to six months. (AFP)

A switch from the legacy recruitment model to a new scheme called Agnipath, for short-term induction of soldiers in the three defence services, on Tuesday led to calls from several veterans to carefully monitor its implementation, and fix gaps that may emerge as the scheme is rolled out, even as some others cautioned that it could adversely affect the morale and capabilities of the armed forces.

The new model seeks to lower the age profile of the three services, ensure a fitter military, and create a skilled and dynamic workforce for employment in other sectors.

Military affairs expert Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd) said that a pilot project should have been launched before the implementation of the scheme to assess its effectiveness.

“A veteran’s view -- as received. Anyone under the delusion that an ‘intern’ on a 4 yr tour of duty will match up to the Himalayan challenges & place ‘Izzat’ of the paltan before life & limb is clearly hallucinating. If you think pension is expensive- try defeat,” Bhatia tweeted.

“Apart from eroding the ethos of the regimental system, the scheme will also lead to frustration among those who are rejected by the army and not retained in service after four years,” he said, adding that if the rehabilitation of the people who are let go after four years is not ensured, it could lead to social problems and law and order issues.

Former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd), however, said that discussing the merits and demerits of the Agnipath scheme served little purpose now, since it has already been announced by the government.

“While it has its advantages, it also has its challenges. Is the training period for Agniveers adequate? Will their motivation levels be the same as soldiers who serve for longer duration? The armed forces will have to address these issues and make the scheme a success,” he said.

The scheme, cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security on Tuesday, seeks to recruit soldiers, including women, for only four years, with a provision to retain 25% of them in the regular cadre for 15 years after another round of screening.

The four-year service includes training for 10 weeks to six months. Those recruited under the legacy system train for nine months and serve the armed forces for about 20 years before retiring in their late 30s.

“In the first four years, the armed forces must assess how the Agnipath scheme is working out, and then make modifications if needed,” Hooda said, calling for government to be open to making changes, if needed. “I am sure the scheme has flexibility to accommodate changes.”

The armed forces will recruit 46,000 Agniveers this year, with the first recruitment rally under the new model to be held in 90 days.

All aspects of the scheme were discussed threadbare for more than two years and several global models studied before it was finalised, top officials said, seeking anonymity.

Different state governments, public-sector undertakings and other government departments will give priority to Agniveers while making recruitments, and these entities would make an announcement on the same soon, defence minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday.

The recruitment scheme 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 (AIAC) system to provide equal opportunities to youth across the country, the officials said.

Around 75% of army units are already AIAC, and as the scheme moves forward, there will be no caste-based regiments in the army.

The Agniveers will be “assimilated and integrated” in the system, Army chief General Manoj Pande said.

Military affairs expert Major General Ashok Kumar (retd) described the scheme as a significant reform with many advantages. “The armed forces will have a younger age profile, and they will have an opportunity to retain the best of the best when they release 75% of the Agniveers,” he said.

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