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Agnipath – A Fire That Could Singe India


Agnipath scheme for recruitment of short-term contracted soldiers was announced. The driving factor for this U turn — from ‘One Rank One Pension’ to ‘No Rank No Pension’ might be economic.


GS-II: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Dimensions of the Article

  • Financial motivations
  • Damaging consequences
  • Political, and social implications
  • Way Forward

Financial motivations

  • The OROP demand became tricky to fulfil but it was officially instituted in November 2015 for more than 25 lakh defence pensioners.
  • It came with an immediate annual financial implication of ₹7,123.38 crore and the actual arrears from July 1, 2014 to December 31, 2015 were ₹10,392.35 crore.
  • The financial burden increased cumulatively over time and has substantially increased the budgetary expenditure on defence pensions.
  • In the current financial year, ₹1,19,696 crore has been budgeted for pensions, along with another ₹1,63,453 crore for salaries —that is 54% of the allocation for the Defence Ministry.
  • It has been argued that the savings in the pensions bill — which will show up on the books only after a couple of decades — would be directed towards the modernisation of defence forces.
  • The armed forces do not have that kind of time available to them to postpone their already long-delayed modernization.
  • The Indian Air Force is already down to 30 squadrons of fighter jets against the 42 squadrons it needs, and the Indian Navy is at 130 ships when its vision was to be a 200 ship navy; the Indian Army is already short of 1,00,000 soldiers.
  • The announcement of the Agniveer scheme is an implicit acknowledgement that the Indian the economy is incapable of supporting the armed forces that India needs.
  • It faces an active military threat from two adversaries, China and Pakistan, and the internal security challenges in Kashmir and the northeastern States.
  • Hence we must not resort to shrinking the military and rather must expand the economy to support the military and its needs.

Damaging consequences

  • The policy has neither been theoretically drafted nor applied as a pilot project which brings uncertainty in its consequences post-implementation.
  • Delayed consequences might be seen at operational levels of the Military especially the Navy and the Air Force which requires specialization in various areas.
  • The training infrastructure, administrative working, etc. might be insufficient currently to the handle retention, release and recruitment of huge number of young soldiers.
  • In the Agnipath pral, the class-based recruitment has been replaced with an all-India all-class recruitment. The reasons for this will strike at the core of the organizational management, leadership structures and operating philosophy of the Indian Army.
  • Replacing the social identity of the soldiers with a purely professional identity would bring its own challenges in  a tradition-bound army.
  • There will be major problems in training, integrating and deploying soldiers with different levels of experience and motivations.
  • The criterion of identifying the 25% short-term contracted soldiers to be retained could result in unhealthy competition.
  • An organisation that depends on trust, camaraderie and esprit de corps could end up grappling with rivalries and jealousies amongst winners and losers, especially in their final year of the contract.
  • just like the OROP issue, this could become a politically attractive demand for longer tenures and pensions to be picked up by the Opposition parties. Over time, this will lead to the salary and pension budget creeping back up again.

Political, and social implications

  • The Agnipath scheme also does away with the idea of a State-wise quota for recruitment into the Army, based on the Recruitable Male Population of that State which was implemented from 1966. This prevented an imbalanced army, which was dominated by any one State, linguistic community or ethnicity.
  • Academic research shows that the high level of ethnic imbalance has been associated with severe problems of democracy and an increased likelihood of civil war.
  • Coupled with this is the lack of hope in India’s economy, where over 45 crore Indians have stopped looking for jobs, there are
  • high levels of unemployment and underemployment.
  • It is to this mix that these few thousand young men who have been trained in inflicting organized violence will be thrown up every year.
  • From erstwhile Yugoslavia to Rwanda — and closer home, during Partition — there are numerous examples of demobilised soldiers leading to increased violence against minorities.

Way Forward

In India, the Indian Army has so far provided salary, uniform and prestige, an inheritance of the British who took care of the living conditions, facilities for the soldiers’ families, and postretirement benefits and rewards, such as grants of land. A short-term contractual soldier, without earning pension, will be seen as doing jobs after his military service that are not seen to be commensurate in status and prestige with the profession of honour. It will reduce the motivation of those joining on short-term contracts while diminishing the “honour” of a profession which places extraordinary demands on young men.  The Government’s yearning for financial savings runs the risk of reducing the honour of a profession, the stability of a society and the safety of a country.

Source – The Hindu

February 2024