Tour of Duty scheme: An idea whose time has come - Hindustan Times
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Tour of Duty scheme: An idea whose time has come

ByAnil Chopra
Jun 13, 2022 12:05 PM IST

The discussions on the ToD scheme have been on for nearly two years. While the concept is new for the Indian armed forces, similar schemes have been implemented in several other countries, without any adverse impacts

The impending implementation of the new cadre management scheme of the armed forces, the Tour of Duty (ToD) scheme or Agnipath, has evoked mixed reactions. I feel we need to look at the ToD scheme with a more open mind.

Agniveers will go through 26 weeks of basic military training (the existing module is of 44 weeks), bear a distinct rank; and have on-the-job training in the unit. After the four-year engagement, they will go back to society. During the service, their uniform will have a distinct insignia. (AP)
Agniveers will go through 26 weeks of basic military training (the existing module is of 44 weeks), bear a distinct rank; and have on-the-job training in the unit. After the four-year engagement, they will go back to society. During the service, their uniform will have a distinct insignia. (AP)

Cadre management is a human resource (HR) exercise carried out by all organisations. It is meant to consider the need for changing times and new ground realities. In the case of Agnipath, there are three players: The Government of India (GoI), the armed forces, and the, to be enrolled, “Agniveers”. Any HR exercise should be a win-win for all. The national exchequer should be able to save money, which can then be used for modernisation of the forces. The armed forces should achieve a younger warrior profile without compromising on quality or capability. And, Agniveers should be looked after in terms of employment benefits and post-exit opportunities.

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The armed forces have a Short Service Commission (SSC) for officers for 10 to 14 years. That, too, was a cadre-management exercise. But there is no equivalent scheme for other ranks. Nevertheless, the SSC scheme has worked well: SSC officers performed well, and most are fairly well employed in the civil world.

There is always apprehension when a change is made. Recall the resistance of the armed forces when it came to inducting women. Yet, 20 years later, women are being inducted into combat roles. I say with pride that they are doing very well.

Agniveers will be selected from across the country and enrolled for four years. This will also apply to units that have fixed-class composition. The selection process should improve homogeneity, national cohesion and integration. Candidates will be between 18 and 24 years. The selection criteria will cover age, educational, medical and physical standards.

Agniveers will go through 26 weeks of basic military training (the existing module is of 44 weeks), bear a distinct rank; and have on-the-job training in the unit. After the four-year engagement, they will go back to society. During the service, their uniform will have a distinct insignia.

Agniveers will be entitled to all medical facilities, leave, CSD facilities, honours and awards. They will have a fixed salary package of around 30,000 per month, with annual increments. In addition, they will get the risk and hardship, dress, and travel allowances. Agniveers will be provided life insurance cover of 48 lakh for their engagement. They will also be entitled to compensation for disability. One-time ex-gratia 44 lakh will be paid in case of death on duty in addition to the insurance.

A non-lapsable “Agniveer Corpus Fund” will be created. It will be made of 30% salary contribution by the individual with matching figure by GoI. It will attract an interest rate equivalent to the Public Provident Fund, and this tax-exempt “Seva Nidhi” package will become nearly 10 lakh when the individual leaves the forces. At the end of the engagement period, a detailed skill-set certificate will be provided to Agniveers, for possible employment outside.

Agniveers will be offered an opportunity to apply for enrolment in the regular cadre. Their performance of the four years would be considered and up to 25% of each batch is likely to be enrolled in the service. This will be a reason for them to be highly motivated and maintain high performance. Those enrolled in armed forces as regular cadre on the completion of four years, will hereafter be governed by existing terms and conditions of service.

All entries in the below officer ranks cadre will be through the scheme. In due course, women will also be inducted under this scheme. The existing workforce deficiencies will also be made up, which, in any case, is a continuous process.

One significant advantage of this scheme would be the much lower age profile of the service. It will increase promotional avenues of the permanent cadre. The significant advantage for the young entrant will be early employment with significantly good emoluments and a 25% chance of joining the permanent cadre. He also gets groomed in a much more disciplined environment and can handle modern equipment, and he acquires new skill sets without paying for them. He also acquires leadership and team-building capabilities. Yes, it will not be possible to train or assign hi-tech jobs in this short period, but they will be used for many less technical jobs, including working on the aircraft and on ships. Those who become permanent employees will go through higher technical training. The armed forces have confirmed that their combat capability will not be affected by such enrolment.

Several questions, some valid, have been raised about the scheme. For example, if the ToD scheme is so good, why not apply it to Central Armed Police Forces and police forces. After all, the retirement ages in these organisations are much higher and their pension bills are much larger. Why single out only the armed forces for savings, and not take a whole-of-nation approach? This is a genuine question, which can best be answered by GoI.

The other issue is the prospect of the individual’s re-employment after exiting from armed forces. Most of the SSC officers have found suitable employment after release from service. Similarly, Agniveers will find opportunities in corporate fields. There are also opportunities in logistics, security, airfield and infrastructure maintenance. All these skills combined with their personality, fitness, and life skills will put them ahead of their peers. It is thus presumed that the four years spent in the service will have a tremendous positive impact on employability.

Is the Agniveer scheme only to save money? The answer may be, is yes and no. The significant benefit will be the younger age profile of the armed forces. The average age of an infantryman currently is 35-36. With ToD, this is expected to drop to 25-26 in five years.

Yes, there will be financial savings. India’s defence budget for 2022-23 is 5.25 lakh crore, of which 1.2 lakh crore is for pension component. As per reports, the “prospective life-term saving” in the cost of engagement of a jawan who leaves after 17 years of service with pension and other benefits, as compared to an Agniveer, will be 11.5 crore. National defence budget management is essential. There has to be a much more significant percentage for Capital acquisitions. No major country has such adverse capital to revenue expenditure and pension bill ratios. It is hoped that the money saved would be used to focus more on the advancement of technology and military modernisation.

Some have aired apprehensions that not many would now want to enrol in the armed forces. The best would rather join other government jobs where permanency is assured. This is a valid concern. As on date, for every vacancy in the armed forces there are over a hundred applicants. The plan is to start the entry as per new scheme quickly but do it in smaller batches initially and wait for the system to settle.

It is unfair to say that Agniveers will not have the desired status in the forces. This is wrong. He will be a key member of the team. Similarly, it will also give an opportunity for the youth to choose if they want to continue the armed forces career or switch to other options.

ToD will be a great opportunity for India’s youth to experience military life without having to join the armed forces on a long-term basis. A diploma and a degree are being planned for the recruits besides skill training. Those who leave after four years will have a plethora of options in corporate world.

While there may not be assured side-stepping in paramilitary forces or in any other government organisation, help and guidance will be provided to soldiers for their employment, including in the private sector. Interestingly, even today some lower rank personnel appear for competitive selection process to become officers at very young age. Such option will become interesting for Agniveers. It is also unfair to say that the Agniveer will just be concentrating to build his resume. He will actually have his hands full. It is the military that should help them have a proud resume for an alternative career.

The shorter period of training should not be of concern because it is equivalent of “Just in Time Training” (JITT) followed by many organisations. In any case if they get permanent enrolment, another round of training will take place. There could also be a case to give preference to selecting National Cadet Corps trained individuals.

Undoubtedly, the Indian soldier is unmatched, as he fights for naam (name) meaning reputation of the regiment, namak (salt) meaning loyalty, and the nishan (sign) meaning the colours of the regiment. I do not see that the young Agniveer will have lesser loyalty to his unit just because he is there only for four years. In fact, he will work hard to prove his loyalty with a hope to become permanent.

Considering that India has fairly active borders with its neighbours, some fear that the operational capability should not go down by inducting Agniveers. I think that they will be as good as current jawans. The service HQs have already factored this aspect it is presumed.

Down the line, one day there will be one regular combatant for every three Agniveers. In a typical army section there would be three regulars and nine Agniveers. So be it. They will perform no less. It is unfair to compare them with Russian conscripts in Ukraine, and call them as sacrificial goats. In all our wars, it is the young officers and jawans who have performed most valiantly. If at some point it is felt that the duration of tenure of ToD needs to be increased to say six-seven years, this can be reviewed after five years.

The discussions on the ToD scheme have been on for nearly two years. While the concept is new for the Indian armed forces, similar schemes have been implemented in several other countries, without any adverse impacts. Late General Bipin Rawat, as the then Chief of Defence Staff was personally driving it in consultation with the service HQs. It is presumed that the service HQs have done their homework and are on-board the scheme and will ensure it succeeds. The recruitments have been on a hold for some time. It is important that they restart at the earliest.

Air Marshal Anil Chopra is director-general, Centre for Air Power Studies

The views expressed are personal

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