Will the Agnipath program affect the quality of the armed forces?

The Agnipath program, which was announced on June 14, sparked violent protests across the country. As the unrest escalated last week, trains were set on fire, stations were vandalized, scores were injured and two people were killed.

So what is the Agnipath schema and why has it sparked a dispute?

In a nutshell, the Agnipath is a four-year contract employment program aimed at recruiting 45,000 to 50,000 youths aged between 17.5 and 21 years into the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Army. Indian air. A monthly pay of Rs 30,000 is offered to young recruits, called Agniveers, but without gratuity or retirement compensation.

But here’s the catch: only 25% of recruited personnel will be retained in the armed forces after 4 years.

Protesters cited two reasons for their agitation against the Agnipath regime: job security and retirement. On the one hand, the existing service of 17 years was replaced by only 4 years of service for the majority of recruits. On the other hand, there will be no lifetime retirement benefits. In fact, there is no pension or gratuity after leaving the defense forces if you were recruited under this radical regime.

A train set on fire by a crowd protesting the Centre’s Agnipath scheme, at Danapur railway station, near Patna, Friday, June 17, 2022. (PTI Photo)

“Their concerns are legitimate. Young people from northern villages like UP, Bihar, Haryana see the army as a major source of employment. This gives them prestige, good matrimonial alliances, job security and a good pension. So it’s a sea change for them,” says Vishnu Unnithan, a retired air force pilot, while addressing Onmanorama.

However, proponents of the program argue that the new program is in the best interests of protesters.

“As the information gets out, they are going to realize that this scheme is in their best interest. The monthly salary, package and booking benefits in paramilitaries and PSUs announced by the government show that this is a good diet,” retired Colonel S Dinny said during a podcast session with Onmanorama.

indian army

Representative picture

Will the quality of the armed forces take a hit?

The Agnipath device offers six months of training followed by three and a half years of service. Experts have worried whether the new system will reduce the quality of the defense forces.

“The quality of the Defense Forces will improve with the implementation of the Agnipath system. Only 25%, or the best recruited batch, will be selected to serve in the military for the next 15 years. This will certainly improve the standards of army personnel. Six months of training is enough. Additionally, training is an integral and ongoing process in the Army,” says Col (Ret’d) Dinny.


Demonstrators block the road to Khagaul during a protest against the ‘Agnipath’ program near Patna on Friday, June 17, 2022. (PTI Photo)

Recruitments under the scheme will commence within 90 days and it is expected to bring “all India, all grades” recruitment to the services.

“The Indian military is much more complex than other countries like Singapore and Israel which require compulsory enlistment. Army combat unit is like a battalion made up of people of certain caste, religion or class like Sikh regiment or Gurkha regiment. The basic structure of the army will be affected by the project. It remains to be seen how they will fit in once the program is in place,” says Captain Unnithan.

“The army can do well with the ‘all India, all castes’ basis. But it will involve a lot of changes and will change the way the Indian Army has operated so far,” he added.

Bihar protest

Demonstration in Bihar against the army’s “Agnipath” program. Photo: IANS

Preparation versus results: an unfair market?

Enlisting in one of the three services is a difficult process that involves preparation from an early age. Many anxious aspirants feel it is unfair to spend 2-4 years preparing for a job with an anticipated expiration date.

Col (rtd) Dinny maintains that the priority of the program is defense and that the main objective of the program is to reduce the age of military personnel.

“The main objective is to reduce the age profile of the armed forces so that they are better equipped to deal with the conflict in Kashmir and elsewhere. But having said that, we have to take care of the young people. They must be sufficiently motivated to join the armed forces. There is a balance to maintain. »

The Cabinet authorizes the “Agnipath” program for the recruitment of young people into the armed forces.  (Picture: Twitter)

The program is called Agnipath and young people selected under this program will be known as Agniveers: IANS

What future for Agniviers?

Seventy-five percent of men recruited under the Agnipath program will find themselves unemployed after four years. Although the government has also announced a 10% reserve in paramilitary forces and PSUs for these recruits, the program will leave a large number of unemployed young people trained in weapons on the streets.

“The government’s decision to provide a reservation for the Agniveers is a good decision. But even with these reservations, a large number of trained people will remain unemployed. At least 30,000 to 40,000 will be raised every four years even if the number of jobs increases.

To have a lot of young unemployed people trained in society after four years is a risky prospect if they end up in the wrong groups.

Captain Vishnu Unnithan, former IAF fighter pilot

“Having a lot of young unemployed people trained in society after four years is a risky prospect if they end up in the wrong groups. It will also be difficult for them to retake a course as others their age settle into their permanent careers,” says Captain Unnithan.

Isn’t the younger age profile advantageous for the military?

The government aims to reduce the average age of military personnel from 32 to 26 through this program. Even opponents of the Agnipath program argue that it is a much-needed reform in the armed forces.

“Life on the border is tough. Working at an altitude of 20,000 feet above sea level in thin air and carrying around 6-7 kg of luggage requires good physical condition. A lower age profile is preferred,” he added.


Does the plan aim to reduce the huge pension bill?

“We have a huge pension bill. About 53 to 58% of the defense budget is devoted to revenue. And a lot of that goes into retirement. There is less than 50% left for capital expenditure,” says Col (rtd) Dinny.

India spends about $76 billion on defense, compared to $293 billion for China.

“So what do we do in such a scenario? Chinese incursions are real threats. We need to reduce our pensions and other income expenditures to increase capital expenditures. As we have a budget constraint, our only option is to better allocate resources,” says Captain Unnithan.

But he dismissed the suggestion that the armed forces would resort to major downsizing through the Agnipath programme.

“We have thousands of kilometers of borders to monitor. Although we can improve the surveillance aspects, we need men to guard the borders,” he said.

Agnipath |  Kozhikode protest

Demonstrations against the Agnipath program in Kozhikode. Photo: Manorama

Why has Kerala witnessed muted protests?

“In northern India, the army is the main source of employment. In Kerala, this is not the case. Also, the state has a more educated profile and better opportunities. So we have fewer people who see the armed forces as a job opportunity,” Capt Unnithan said.

Colonel (rtd) Dinny says that although Kerala has a lower number of applicants, it does not have a smaller representation in the armed forces.

“According to army statistics, the average strength in the army is 37 people per 10 lakh. For Kerala, this figure is 36. Thus, the state does not have an inferior representation in the general scheme of things.

“In North India, there is a huge activity of coaching institutes. The number of such centers is limited in Kerala, which is part of the reason why there is less turmoil in the state.


Smoke rises from buses after they were set on fire by people protesting against the Centre’s ‘Agnipath’ scheme, in Aurangabad on Friday, June 17, 2022. (PTI Photo)

“I think the protests were mostly fueled by aspirants who were waiting for their written exam after taking their physical exam. They were really worried and frustrated. In Kerala, this number is limited to around 4,500 aspirants scattered throughout the state. This could be the reason why a consolidation of protests did not take place,” he said.