Agnipath scheme: A path-breaking, futuristic initiative that should be welcomed

The Government of India has launched “Agnipath” — a path-breaking service entry scheme for the Indian armed forces. The full details are in the public domain. The essential features are to pick up young boys and girls (17.5-21 years), across India, without regional bias, give them a short consolidated training, and then assign them to operational tasks. Their period of engagement is four years. They start with a good salary package (Rs 30,000) with annual increments. They are entitled to medical and insurance cover and other service facilities like canteen, etc. Some of them (25 per cent) will get enrolled in regular service and follow the path of current soldiers. Rest are released back into the society with highly engrained patriotism and discipline, improved skill sets, and appropriate certificates endorsing them. They are still young and much better prepared to compete for a variety of jobs. There have been mixed responses to the scheme. Some of the veterans have shown concerns about their operational capability and readiness and ability to integrate into the unit ethos and fighting spirit in that short period. In the past there has been resistance to change during the implementation of the Short Service Commission (SSC) for the officers, induction of women in the armed forces, Sainik Schools and NDA. Yet they all performed very well. Clearly, the system adjusts to change. Having been the HR head of the Indian Air Force, I thought some of the apprehensions lack realism and need clarity. There is a famous saying: “Change is the only constant”. Militaries and corporates across the globe are all the time evolving HR practices. The world today is highly digitised and technical. So are the armed forces. The youth are much more tech-savvy and imbibe technology very quickly. India needs futuristic armed forces. *** Also Read Agnipath scheme: Checkmate the false narrative as it’s a game-changer for India and the defence forces Agnipath scheme has its reasons, but government should have initiated it as a pilot project How's the josh? Why Centre's new Agnipath recruitment programme for soldiers is considered revolutionary Education ministry to recognise in-service training received by 'Agniveers' as credits for graduation *** The current average age of the Indian armed forces is around 32 years. After around 10-12 years of this scheme being in place, this age will come down to around 25 years. This will be a win-win for all. There are many armed forces including Israel, Sweden and Singapore among others where the age profile is fairly low. This somewhat revolutionary change in military affairs has been under deliberation and fine-tuning for implementation for nearly two years. The government and the armed forces are on the same page. The armed forces have arranged to give out details of the scheme through a media blitz and briefings. Especially the veterans have been briefed in detail and their misgivings answered. Once the services have planned a youthful drive, it is incumbent upon the veterans to support the exercise with only meaningful advice and not unfounded criticism. Air Marshal Jha, Air Officer Personnel of IAF, explained about time-frame and training: “We will start reaping the benefits right from the time these youngsters start coming to us for training.” Having taken them very young, “it will give us an opportunity to mould the future generations of the IAF, which is ready for combat, conflicts or a no-war no-peace situationhe added. The selection process will start shortly. The “Agniveers” will join for training by end of this year and will be in units by mid-2023. He sees, “Ten years down the line the IAF will be in a very good operational state, despite all the perceived uncertainties.” Agniveers will be 50 per cent of the Army by 2032, says Lt General BS Raju, Army’s Vice Chief. It is inbuilt in the CCS approval that the scheme could be tweaked for improvement anytime at the level of the Defence Minister in consultation with the Chiefs. It has been repeatedly clarified that the primary purpose of the exercise is not to cut the pension budget. Such reduction will be seen only after 12-15 years of the implementation of the scheme. There are no reasons to believe that the young Indians will be less patriotic or will lack combat skills. The Agniveers will work on aircraft, ships and tanks. They will get postings in field and peace stations. They will be exposed to high and low risk tasks. They will be groomed to be team members and young leaders. Even when the 75 per cent leave to join the national mainstream, it will be a “whole-of-nation” approach. The home minister has announced that they will get preference in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Most chief ministers have given similar assurances. At 21, the Agniveer would still be young. Their newly acquired competence, combined with the personality, fitness and life skills will put them ahead of their peers. The corporate world will be very happy to take them in. There is a big boom in aviation, and shipping. Air force and naval personnel have great opportunities. Similarly, the Army is very high-tech today and there are many jobs in the corporate world in telecommunications, logistics, security, and other fields. The exit package, ‘Seva Nidhi’, will be nearly Rs 10 lakh. It is a sizeable sum for an individual to start something on his own. 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. Yes, this concern would be watched. As on date for every vacancy in the armed forces there are over a hundred applicants. Let us go through 2-3 induction cycles before commenting. Agniveer 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, and yet have that option to continue to serve. 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 Indian soldier is unmatched, as he fights with full loyalty for the reputation of the regiment and the unit flag. 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 the hope to become permanent. The armed forces are conscious that being a combat force and with live active borders, the operational capability cannot be allowed to go down. The regular-to-Agniveer ratios will change gradually. Initial entry will be of lesser numbers and the same will go up in years to come. All this has been factored and gamed. Those getting permanent enrolment will go through another round of training to be able to take on higher-level technical and other tasks. The recruitments have been on hold for some time. It is important that they restart at the earliest. It is incumbent upon the veterans to support the armed forces in their plans. The writer is Director General, Centre for Air Power Studies. Views expressed are personal. Read all the Latest News , Trending News ,  Cricket News , Bollywood News , India News and Entertainment News here. Follow us on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram .

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