Will Agnipath scheme be effective for Indian Army? Military veterans speak

Under the Agnipath scheme, around 46,000 soldiers, between the ages of 17-and-a-half years and 21 years, will be recruited into the three services in a contract for four years. The youth selected under this scheme will be known as ‘Agniveers.’

Will Agnipath scheme be effective for Indian Army? Military veterans speak

New Delhi: India, the nation of Mahatma Gandhi and Gautam Buddha, known for its tolerance and resilience, has witnessed one of its strongest protests that transformed into an intemperate outrage in no time- REASON? Agnipath, a reform made by the NDA-ruled Indian government in the defence recruitment process for the non-commissioned rank. In just four days- 12 trains were burned down, public property worth lakhs vandalised and a railway station was looted of Rs 3 lakh cash in Bihar alone. The Indian Railways, badly disrupted by the nationwide violence, had to cancel 529 trains resulting in massive inconvenience to the civilians. Unfortunately, one person has died and 13 others were left injured as protesters clashed in Secunderabad city in Telangana on Friday- All in the name of Agnipath.

The Union Cabinet on June 14 approved the Agnipath recruitment scheme for Indian youth to serve in the Armed Forces. Under this, around 46,000 soldiers, between the ages of 17-and-a-half years and 21 years, will be recruited into the three services in a contract for four years. The youth selected under this scheme will be known as ‘Agniveers.’

Ever since the announcement of the policy, anti-Agnipath protestors argue that the scheme strips a soldier of long service with the benefits that he/she ‘deserves’ and leaves them with no job security and pension. They say that the youth in smaller towns and villages prepare for years to become soldiers in the armed forces as the job brings prestige, a regular income and for some, a way out of poverty, which will not be the case anymore.

Many argue that the scheme doesn’t take into consideration those who had already cleared physical examination for the defence recruitment as per the previous recruitment system. Another primary concern for the youth is that 75% of the recruits will be left demobilised with no life service and benefits, including pensions.

However, a pertinent question that comes to the fore and is being highlighted by many defence veterans is if the scheme would be effective in a nation like ours?

To understand the Agnipath scheme from a military perspective, Zee Media spoke to General VP Malik, who served as Army chief during the Kargil War and Geopolitical & Military Analyst and Army veteran Colonel Rohit Dev and Major General Yash Mor.

Talking about Agnipath’s effectiveness for Indian Army advancement, Gen VP Malik says like any other scheme it has its own set of advantages and apprehensions. However, there is always room for modifications in case something doesn’t work out or a need arises.

Similarly, Col Dev believes it to be a very progressive and well-thought-out reform for the defence forces which will have due Follow Up Actions, based on suggestions and learnings while implementation. He mentioned the Follow Up Actions being taken by various Ministries and how this will benefit our Forces and Youth as well.

On the other hand, Major Gen More said, "In my view, the pitfalls of this innovative scheme will be realised at the functional level, on the ground."

The 4 year-tenure concern- from the military lens

For most protestors, the temporary 4-year term employment has been the primary concern. While many argue that it would be difficult for the ‘Agniveers’ to get into the workforce after their tenure in the armed forces, others say that this time frame isn’t enough to inculcate the military ethos, sentiments and surmountable training, especially in those recruited for the combative roles.

 Strongly disapproving of the argument, Gen Malik said that even during the Kargil war, most soldiers who joined the fight were in the services for less than 2 years but fought very well. So the Army sentiment or training cannot be confined to a particular time frame. It is more about how quickly and smoothly the men let the unit ethos seep in and they will be able to do well if trained properly. Time is not of much significance in the case.

 “A jawan is best and adequately trained by the time he takes the oath to serve the country and this has nothing to do with the time frame,” said Col Dev on the 4-year-tenure.

 “I don’t agree with this argument and believe that the four-year term is more than enough to create well-skilled, disciplined soldiers who will come out not only as effective assets to the army but also as well-prepared citizens to serve in the civilian workforce” Col Dev added and gave examples how his Renewable Energy Company PRESPL was hiring Veterans and Ex-servicemen at all levels, as a strategy and how Structured and Non-Structured jobs will be available for Agniveers in future.

Agnipath: Will it help to retain only the best in the Armed forces

Reiterating his confidence in the Agnipath scheme, Col Dev said that under this recruitment policy, the best performing soldiers and servicemen will be filtered and retained in the army after four years as there’s no vast time mandate and this will leave us with the very best of the lot adding to efficiency and quality of Army personnel.

“So if anyone during the training part or otherwise does not perform to the optimised level and behaves in an improper or, unbecoming manner or creates trouble, the Army wouldn’t have to bear them for 15-17 years and the Forces will weed them out. This method of intake will in no way impinge on the military performance but will certainly invigorate it,” he added.

On being asked if the Agnipath scheme will help Indian Army retain the best of the lot, Major General Yash Mor said that judging the performance of a soldier in a span of four years seems unreasonable.

"How will you judge the performance of a jawan in just 4 years? Is it enough for him to get to his best potential? Is there any criteria by which these soldiers will be judged and retained after the tenure,” Maj Gen Mor added.

The Army needs younger soldiers

“From the Army perspective, I need a younger people. The way we have functioned for the last few decades, the average age of a soldier in the Indian Army has been raised and this isn’t a good sign,” said Gen Malik.

“We have to consider the future of the warfare and our deployments where the soldier needs to be stationed at difficult terrains like Galwan and the high altitude mountains. Our likely adversary China has a tech-savvy military. Our soldiers also need to be tech-savvy, young and fast learners. Young jawans are the need of the hour and the Agnipath scheme will bring young men into the forces” he added.

On the other hand, Maj Gen Mor  said, “I disagree with this argument that getting younger soldiers will help or that age was even a point of concern."

"No study has been done on this aspect that the army needs soldiers, particularly in that age bracket so that they are more efficient," Maj Gen Mor added.

Agnipath will help modernise and strengthen the Army

“Our defence revenue budget is rising every year on account of pensions. We are left with little money to modernise and purchase technologically enhanced weapons and equipment. It has been long pending and we have to adopt a more practical approach. Agnipath is one way to do this,” said Gen Malik.

“The money that we save will be invested in modernising and giving better weapons, equipment and training in the army. This will in turn optimise our effectiveness as an Armed Force,” he added.

Col Dev also agreed that the Agnipath scheme, apart from tangible benefits for Forces and Youth, is also focused on the financial repercussion as the pension burden is surmounting and as the military needs more funds to buy modern weapons and technology to face present and future challenges and enhance the quality of life of personnel.

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