"Agnipath scheme is a path-breaking manpower intake exercise": Army Chief Manoj Pande

The Government has announced its game changing new recruitment drive for the armed forces. Called Agnipath the aim is to recruit 46,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen annually, starting from September 2022. All other recruitment drives for the armed forces will be cancelled. The Agnipath will recruit personnel between the ages 17.5 to 21 years, for a period of four years only. Following which 25 percent of the recruits will be taken in to complete 15 years in service while the others will be laid off with a package of nearly 12 lakhs to begin their civilian lives.

This is broadly what the new scheme envisages and it has sparked off a debate within the armed forces. Some see this as an attempt to reap the demographic dividend by reducing the average age of the army from 32 years to 26. This will also decrease the pension burden on the defence budget which currently amounts to nearly half the defence budget of 5.25 lakh crore. Funds saved could be used for military modernization. The idea is also to have a leaner, younger armed force.

But speaking to The Daily Guardian a number of army veterans have voiced their apprehensions. For one the fear is that by laying off 75 % of the recruits there will be an unleashing of military trained personnel on to  civilian life. Countering this, the government says it is planning Agnipath recruitment centres and will be in touch with the CRPF, Police Force and private industry to help the recruitment. Another apprehension is that four years is not enough to equip someone to handle a tank or a combat aircraft. Apart from the technical knowhow you also need the first hand experience which only comes with time and training. Last and a very relevant point was put forward by Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia ex DGMO and former director CENJAWS, that one should not underestimate the importance of hand to hand combat even in this technologically advanced world. We saw it first hand at Galwan recently. This is indeed a pertinent point. There have also been fears that this would lead to conscription but again, government spokesmen deny this stating that the armed forces remain a volunteer service. What Agnipath will do is to ensure recruitment at an All India All Class level. What veterans fear is the end of a culture that saw families serving in the army, in fact serving in the armed forces is a source of pride and livelihood for most.

The government has stated that it is open to suggestions. But the main concern is that was the announcement made first without thinking it through?