T rial by fire

Updated on: Jun 20, 2022
The protests against Agnipath scheme is roiling the nation

The protests against Agnipath scheme is roiling the nation | Photo Credit: DEEPAK KR

India is following a global precedent with Agnipath, but the Centre needs to iron out imperfections

Reforms are never easy to sell, and more so when they are sprung on the people without prior debate and discussion. That’s the lesson from the furore over the Agnipath scheme for the armed forces. The scheme, designed to reduce the average age of the forces, and to divert precious funds from salaries and pensions to investing in modernisation, equipment and technology, is a good reform measure. The defence forces cannot remain in a time warp and outside the purview of reforms. While the logic and need for reforms is unquestionable, it is also important that they are sold well. The Agnipath scheme is being pilloried wrongly, with entirely unacceptable violence breaking out as a result of a misunderstanding of the specifics of the scheme. India needs a young, modernised and battle-ready defence forces at a time when technology has become the cutting edge of combat. The average age of the Indian soldier estimated by the Kargil Review Committee in 1999 was 30 years. It has subsequently risen to 32 years, belying the suggestions of the Committee that the Army “must be young and fit at all times”. Secondly, while Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has said, rather rhetorically, that “money is never an issue when it comes to protecting the country”, India can hardly ignore the ballooning pension bill of the armed forces. This will reduce the space for capital expenditure and modernisation for Defence, more so in the wake of the adoption of One Rank One Pension scheme in November, 2015 for over 25 lakh defence pensioners. In the current fiscal, Rs 1,19,696 crore has been budgeted for pensions along with another Rs 1,63,453 crore for salaries which together account for over half the allocation for the Defence Ministry. The Ministry estimates that every year 60,000 soldiers and about 1,000 officers in the Army alone become eligible for pensions.

In the Russia-Ukraine war, the limitations of sticking to conventional warfare methods, in terms of weaponry and personnel, have been exposed. The recruitment procedures followed by US and Russia, conflict prone nations like Israel, as also China, France, the UK and Germany are instructive in this regard. They follow short-duration models to keep their armies young and dynamic. The professionalism of the Indian armed forces is unquestionable but they must also change with the changing times, especially with technology becoming a big differentiator in the battlefield. A smart, young, tech-savvy fighting force is the need of the times. Agnipath is the first step in that direction.

The government should consider some tweaks to the scheme that will make it better. First, the service period of four years is clearly designed to avoid paying gratuity at five years and deny ex-serviceman status. Such bureaucratic penny-pinching should be shed. A one-time payment of gratuity is not an unreasonable expectation especially given the Raksha Mantri’s assertion of money not being a constraint. Secondly, the benefit of National Pension Scheme (NPS), as accorded to Central Armed Police Forces, can also be extended to the Agniveers so that they walk out with a corpus that they can build upon in their civilian life. These can hopefully help sell the Agnipath reforms better to the people.

Published on June 20, 2022
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.

You May Also Like

Recommended for you