Agnipath scheme: A momentous decision and the way forward
The Agnipath scheme was announced on 14 June 2022 by the government wherein a new recruitment model was promulgated for entry into the defence forces. The scheme has been analysed quite comprehensively for its positives as well as the challenges that it will face and handle. The most important feature of the scheme remains that only 25 per cent of Agniveers would be retained at the end of the four-year tenure, while the remaining 75 per cent are meant to be empowered for getting alternate jobs and be the desired leaders who bring in the requisite change in our society for stronger nation-building.
It is this provision of non-availability of assured jobs for 75 per cent that has generated a lot of negative sentiments regarding the scheme. Probably, the team behind the making of the scheme could not explain the intended narrative in the desired manner. This has resulted in certain changes being announced, like the age relaxation of up to two years for the next cycle of recruitment and priority induction in CAPF/state government jobs including the state police force. Hopefully, the emerging challenges will be addressed in due course of time, though the majority of them could have been foreseen and announced with the scheme itself on 14 June.
Be that as it may, there is a need to connect the multiple dots in the ecosystem related to national security and the creation of credible defence forces, besides national capacities being built in all the domains. A country like Russia is struggling to get enough combatants to fight relatively a small country like Ukraine where the conflict will shortly enter its fifth month. India will also need to develop capacities and not necessarily in the form of the standing army which is cost-prohibitive as well as not required given the way the wars are unfolding and are likely to shape in the future.
The additional availability of trained Agniveers will be most advantageous for the nation, should a war take place with China and Pakistan together and prolong substantially due to mountainous terrain and other considerations. Through the Agnipath scheme, India will be able to create the surge capacities should a necessity so arise. Not only this, the move will create a positive nationalist fervour in the country. One can see how Ukraine has been able to hold itself for so long against mighty Russia, precisely because of its nationalist feeling. Once we have a big number of youths trained as Agniveers, the entire profile of the country will change with a positive national fervour.
There are multiple dots already existing in the country with huge potential for credible defence forces as well as for the empowered nation besides resulting in huge savings for the nation through options of better utilisation. Let us identify, discuss and suggest the way forward for these dots:
- National Cadet Corps (NCC): NCC was raised on 15 July 1948 when the first India-Pakistan war of 1947-48 was underway. It continues to be a volunteer-based organisation with participation in schools and colleges, nurtured by the defence forces since its inception. Both boys and girls can apply and be a part of NCC, which trains them on drill, firing, field craft and multiple other specialised skills in all the three wings including Navy and Air Force. Those in the Air Force wings also get the opportunity for microlight flying. The level of competence among these candidates is fairly high and even comparable to trained soldiers. Substantial funds have been invested by the Central and state governments for running the schemes. Individuals opting for the scheme in the private schools and colleges also invest a reasonable amount for this exposure. In the process, a substantial number of trained manpower is available. The following is recommended for the expansion of NCC:
- While it may continue on a voluntary basis, no school and/or college should be denied this facility for the lack of vacancies. The waiting list is too long at the moment. For achieving this, a reduction in permanent staff sourced from serving personnel and enhanced participation of ESM should be ensured. It will then offer a larger pool of trainers besides employment to ESM close to their place of ensure. It will then have more recruitable youth in the defence forces, paramilitary forces and state police forces. A reduced training period will be possible as these candidates would have already reached a reasonable threshold of basic military training.
- As against multiple youth schemes such as NCC, NSS, Scouts and Guides and others, a common scheme of NCC should be rolled out. In its curriculum, it could include certain critical aspects of the other schemes as well. It will also economise the wasteful expenditure and avoidable multiplicity.
- Induction only through NCC: While NCC should remain a voluntary option and should be made available to all the schools and colleges in the country, the entire recruitment in the armed forces, paramilitary forces and state police forces should be only through NCC qualified candidates. While making it mandatory, necessary relaxation should be made available to those who could not join NCC. This considered decision will avoid the unrest we are seeing in the case of the Agnipath scheme as those already part of the recruitment process have been left high and dry and only age relaxation of two years and that too as an afterthought has been given. This new process will ensure a large number of youths get connected to the armed forces. Besides, the majority of the expenditure incurred on them will be gainfully utilised for the organisations in which they will be inducted.
- Integrated Employment Concept: Currently, all the organisations are having their own QR, method of recruitment and terms and conditions despite the majority of concerns being common. There is a need to look at these disparities for better models to evolve. The Agnipath scheme launched for the defence forces should be renamed Agnipath-1 and should be meant for defence forces as well as for the border guarding forces (BSF, ITBP, SSB), whereas Agnipath-2 should be for Central Armed Police Forces like CRPF, CISF as well as all the state police forces. Necessary modifications should be done wherein 25 per cent should be continued in the defence forces, 10 per cent in border guarding forces, 10 per cent each for other armed police forces and state police forces thus having surety for 55 per cent whereas the balance 45 per cent should be empowered enough to be useful to various organisations in the country. The percentages are merely suggestive and can be modified after a detailed examination, discussion and analysis.
It is felt that once these dots are connected, a better national picture will emerge. We will have strong armed forces and equally competent border guarding forces which is a crying need of this hour along with an energetic CAPF and state police force. It is the most economical model for getting a large pool of trained manpower if the need arises. The best will be on the table harmonising wasteful expenditure and the process.
Since a number of agitations have also erupted post announcement of Agnipath, the government must address the genuine aspirants of those candidates who had already entered the selection process rather than limiting it to merely an extension of two years of age. A larger canvas should be touched by connecting the dots as recommended.
[The Blog was first published in First Post and the writer is a retired army veteran.]