Hi, this is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.
The last few days have been marked by large scale protests spread across several states against a new recruitment policy for the armed forces announced by the central government last week. Called the Agnipath scheme, the government says it will create a more modern, younger and robust force. But in a country where joblessness is a huge issue, where aspirants look for jobs that give them security, the key features of this new policy have come as a shock.
First, the key features themselves- Agnipath or the tour of duty scheme, proposes the recruitment of jawans on a contractual basis for a four-year period. It’s followed by compulsory retirement for most of them without gratuity and pension benefits.
The new recruitment plan aims to cut down the government’s massive salary and pension bills and free up funds for arms procurement, which is much needed. About 45,000 people between the ages of 17 and a half and 21 years will be inducted into the services for a four-year tenure. During this period, they’ll be paid a monthly salary of between 30,000 and 40,000 rupees plus allowances as well.
They’ll also be entitled to medical and insurance benefits for their tenure. After four years, only 25% of these soldiers will be retained and they will go on to serve for a full 15 years in non-officer ranks. The remaining will exit the services with a severance package of between 11 and 12 lacs. But they will not be eligible for pension benefits. Under the old system, young men aged between 16 and a half and 21 years were selected for a minimum of 15 years of service and they would get a pension after retirement, which was one of the main attractions.
After the uproar, the government however, has announced that the upper age limit for new recruits for the Agnipath scheme has been extended from 21 to 23 years of age. This is one time and only for the proposed recruitment cycle for this year of 2022.
That’s because the pandemic had frozen recruitment for the last two years. But even that has not been enough to quell the backlash. Bottom line – the main concern is with the temporary nature of the new scheme. The service is only for four years, pension has been removed and there is no lifelong health care benefit for the soldier and his family.
The government, however, says that this new scheme will also open up opportunities in the private sector and help the young men become entrepreneurs with the aid of a financial package. Until now, a soldier had job security for approximately 17 years, and after that it was the comfort of knowing that there was a lifelong pension and access to subsidized health care for himself and his family. And in case a soldier died in action, the benefits continued for his family.
However, the Agnipath scheme will end these benefits. In case an Agniveer dies while in service, the family will get a one crore payment, one time. That includes insurance, ex-gratia and the balance salary. These benefits, however, will continue for those who become part of the armed forces after the four-year period. So it’s those 25% that are actually recruited for longer.
So what is the government saying about the backlash? Well, for one thing, the Union Home Ministry has announced that these jawans, upon completion of four years of service under the scheme, will get priority in recruitment for the Central Armed Police Forces and the Assam Rifles.
The Defense Ministry has also said it’s reserving 10% of posts in the Coast Guard as well as defense PSUs for Agniveers. The Home Affairs Ministry is also to give a three years age relaxation beyond the prescribed upper age limit for recruitments in the CAPF and the Assam Rifles. Employment opportunities in the Merchant Navy for Agniveers from the Indian Navy, six service avenues for induction have also been announced, while the National Institute of Open Schooling will launch customized courses for 10th pass Agniveers to help them obtain a 12th pass certificate.
The Education Ministry will also recognize in-service training received by Agniveers as credits for graduation. Public sector banks, insurance companies and financial institutions have all said that they will support them through suitable credit. Many corporate houses have welcomed Agnipath and have said that they would recruit Agniveers after they complete their service.
Meanwhile, the chief ministers of BJP ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Assam have said that Agniveers will be given preference in police recruitment after their four year tenure is over. So how will the scheme actually benefit the armed forces and the recruits themselves?
Well the average age in the armed forces today is 32, and that go down to 26 and six to seven years time. It will create what the government says will be future ready soldiers. The Defence Ministry claims that it will also increase employment opportunities and because of the skills and the experience acquired during the four-year service, such soldiers will actually get employment in various fields and diverse fields.
The government says, it will help rehabilitate soldiers who leave the service after their four-year tenure. They will be provided with skill certificates and bridge courses. The impetus will be to create entrepreneurs as well. But as the protests continue, the government has also ruled out a rollback of the scheme.
While the protests of course, are legitimate in any democracy, the violence and burning of trains in particular have left a bad taste. One hopes things will calm down soon and that there is a meeting point found between the government and genuine protesters.