Agnipath, the right way

TS Ramakrishnan | Updated on: Jun 20, 2022
Armed forces are extremely pyramidal not only in terms of cadre but also in terms of age profile. 

Armed forces are extremely pyramidal not only in terms of cadre but also in terms of age profile.  | Photo Credit: PHOTO/THE HINDU

Services need to modernise by reducing HR costs

Within two days of the announcement of the Agnipath scheme of recruiting 46,000 Agniveers to the defence services, protests intensified across many parts of the country These cannot be justified under any circumstance.

The government clearly stated the purpose as the armed forces want a younger, fitter and diverse profile, who can be agile and pick up technology warfare faster. With this scheme, the average age profile of Indian armed forces would come down by four-five years. Armed forces are extremely pyramidal not only in terms of cadre but also in terms of age profile. If the average age of the government employee is 40 plus, it will not endanger national security and integrity.

But that does not hold true for the armed forces. Moreover, warfare is waged by other means including cyber space. The youth in their early twenties can be better trained to handle the latest technology and cyber space warfare rather than those who are 15 years older to them. Anyone who understands the current structure of armed forces across the world and the ever-changing defence tactics will hardily question the government and armed forces’ intentions.

The flip side is why then are the aspiring Agniveers apprehensive about the Agnipath scheme? Let us take the key reasons for the unrest. The age limit of 17.5-21 years would deny the opportunity for those who waited patiently for two years during the Covid era to enter military service, and they would have crossed the upper age limit now. The Centre has increased the upper age limit to 23 years as an exception.

Service tenure

However, there are apprehensions among the youth on the armed forces’ recruitment as per the Agnipath scheme. The apprehension essentially emanates from the service tenure of four years against the current practice of 18 years. Only 25 per cent of the Agniveers would be enrolled permanently in the armed forces. The Home Minister has promised that Agniveers would get preference in the recruitment of Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles. These two forces alone constitute about three lakh soldiers, and it is more than enough for the government to accommodate the demobilised strength of 34,500 Agniveers.

Many State governments have said that they would give preference to Agniveers in their police recruitment. There is hardly any reason to doubt the intention of the Central or State governments’ assurances. The larger apprehensions could be about youngsters who aspire to become soldiers in the Army, but are not ready to grapple with the changing patterns within the armed forces or other forms of employment.

With the expansion of formal administration and welfare government coinciding with Independence — followed by aggressive promotion of public enterprises at the Central and State levels and nationalising private firms by the Nehru-Indira governments — the government job scenario ballooned in the 1960s, 70s and 80s with extremely limited opportunities in private sectors due to the stifling permit-quota raj. However, things started changing after the 1990s. The governments started outsourcing many non-essential activities, thereby reducing their still-daunting salary and pension burden. Unlike private firms, which can right size their human resources at any point of time, the government needs to wait for the serving people to reach superannuation. Neither the government agencies nor private firms are sure about how the technology would play out in future; hence it is a safe bet for them to recruit people as and when required for shorter duration or employ people on contract or outsource non-core activities. In the case of the armed forces, this saving will open up funds for modernisation.

It is not wise on the part of the government to go back to the old pattern of employing soldiers for 18 years. But it should give a written assurance that they would be employed in paramilitary forces if they meet the requirements. The government also has to send a cogent message that the four-year engagement with the armed forces make them well-equipped to handle a more challenging world either with the paramilitary job or otherwise.

The writer is a public policy analyst

Published on June 20, 2022
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