AGNIPATH, A NEED FOR A RELOOK

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AGNIPATH, A NEED FOR A RELOOK

Relevant Background Information

In 2022-23 MoD budget: Rs 5,25,166 crore.  

Total personnel in Defence Forces: Over 13 lac.

Expenditure on Defence pensions: Rs 1,19,696 crore. 

Total pensioners/family pensioners: over 26 lac.

Approximately 55,000 pensioners are added every year.

Approximately 5.8 crore pensioners in India as per 2011 census.

PBOR recruitment suspended for 2 years. 

Shortage in 3 Services: 9,362 officers and around 1.13 lakh PBOR.

Approximately 47.5 lac persons enter Indian job market each year.

65% of India’s population is of working age.

Recruitment each year was 60,000 persons. In 2 years 120,000 persons were not recruited. Now only 46,000 are getting recruited. The number could easily come down after elections in 2024.

With retirees more than recruited number, Services are steadily getting downsized.

MPs/MLAs

  • Rs 70.50 crore spent on monthly pensions of former MPs, including film stars and renowned industrialists.
  • MPs and MLAs – are getting full pension scheme with only 05 years tenure.
  • India paid Rs.176 crore to its 543 Lok Sabha members in salaries and expenses over the last year, or just over Rs. 2.7 lakh a month per MP.
  • MPs are entitled to Rs.50,000 per month as salary, Rs.45,000 as constituency allowance, Rs.15,000 as office expenses and Rs.30,000 for secretarial assistance. When Parliament is in session, they get a daily allowance of Rs.2,000. MPs are also reimbursed for 34 flight trips and unlimited rail and road travel for the year on official business.

Need for Reforms

  1. Manpower reduction is needed.
  2. Pension bill reduction is needed.
  3. More focus on modern weapons & equipment is needed.

Prime Reason for Agnipath

Save Money.

Why need?

Answer: Incompetent economic policies over 8 years.

Scheme: Essentials

  • Create younger profile from 32 to 26 years.
  • Hiring age: 17.5 to 21 years. (Subsequently modified to 23 for one time).
  • Training period: 6 months.
  • Service period 3.5 years.
  • 25% retained up to 15 years.
  • 75% released.
  • 75%: get a lump sum of Rs 11.7 lac (tax free); as per statement of former MP Col Rathore amount: Rs 20 lac (he probably included salary earned during 4 years).
  • Recruitment All India All Class (AIAC).
  •  The government hopes to hire 46,000 “Agniveers” this year.

Promoted Benefits

  • Saving of revenue expenditure; scope for increase in expenditure on weapons and equipment.
  • Rampant unemployment; no dearth of volunteers.
  • Average age profile will reduce from 32 to 26. 
  • Merit driven procedure will improve quality of permanent soldiers. 
  • Starting pay package of Rs 30,000; fixed annual increments and death/disability package is reasonable.
  • Retired ‘Agniveers” will get decent financial package. They can also apply for a bank loan.
  • Those wishing to study further will be provided with a certificate declaring that they have passed the Class 12 exam (it is unclear if such certificates will be issued even to those who have not actually passed the exam). They can also take part in a bridging course to assist in further studies.
  • Those wishing to obtain jobs after completing their term as ‘Agniveer’ will be given priority in CAPFs and state police forces.

Comments on Promoted Benefits

  • Government will save money on pension bill; more funds available for modernization.
  • Average age profile will reduce from 32 to 26. Kipchoge won Olympic Marathon Gold at 36; Messi is 34; Nadal is 36; Bana Singh won PVC at 38. In High Altitude areas I found soldiers around 30 fitter than those below 25.
  • Merit driven procedure will improve quality of permanent soldiers: It may create heart-burning and protests inside units.
  • Resettlement plans are hazy.
  • Those wishing to obtain jobs after completing their term as ‘Agniveer’ will be given priority in CAPFs and state police forces. Promise lacks credibility.

Cons

  • No pilot project; implementation without deliberation. One time change of entry age made later. Despite DM having promised this earlier. Similarity with unplanned past acts: demonetization, lock-down, farm laws.
  • Inadequate financial support to retiring ‘Agniveers’.
  • 8 months of AL, 4 months of CL brings availability in unit to 3 years. Considering training requirements of different arms, services, terrains and shifting from one terrain to another implies low reliability of ‘Agniveers’. In OP PRAKRAM around 100 soldiers had died and  250 injured in mine laying operations only. Visualizing the potential road and field firing accidents will make a potential CO shiver.
  • Post retirement, asking CAPF and State Police Forces to absorb them will be functionally problematic. Armed forces are for a different purpose – dealing with the enemy and police forces are for maintaining law and order.
  • Post retirement, not everyone will be keen on entrepreneurship or joining Police services or even studies – people tend to look for a job that can support them and their families.
  • Indo-Nepal relations?
  • Anger of those awaiting joining.
  • Socio-economic problems.
  • Morale & motivation.
  • Troop composition of regiments & arms?
  • It is feared that the young retired ‘Agniveers’ with limited job avenues and competence at handling arms and ammunition may be lured into a life of crime considering the state of rampant poverty and unemployment in India. My view: this fear is apparently far-fetched.

Interesting Sidelights

  • From his initial statement on subject it was apparent that Gen VK Singh was not kept in the loop.
  • Apparently even Defence Minister was unaware of the scheme.
  • Asking the serving chiefs to publicly defend the policy is an attempt to shift responsibility. We witnessed it earlier when statements like, “Giving Army a free hand” were made during the Ladakh crisis.
  • Retirees will get ‘Agniveer Skill Certificate’. How much it is valued only time will tell.
  • No wise statements have come from Anupan Kher, Akshay Kumar and Kangana Ranaut, the self styled experts on everything.

Recommendations

  • No change in training period.
  • Retention period be increased to 8 years for non-technical and 10 years for technical persons.
  • On termination of service lump sum paid: Rs 50,00,000/-
  • 2-6 months of pre-retirement training provided.
  • Present scheme be shelved and a new scheme instituted after deliberate consultations and launch of a suitable pilot program.
  • Scheme should be introduced gradually.

There is a request from my side. Please do not indulge in any kind of arson or violence. Protest is your right, vandalism is not. We are from the land of Mahatma Gandhi, we should be cognizant of that fact.

  • BY Col M M Nehru
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