As per the Centre's announcement, the first batch of Agniveers will be ready by July 2023

The Agnipath scheme, which is being hailed as 'historic', will see 46,000 youths being recruited into the Army, Navy and Air Force this year for a period of four years. With this scheme, the government hopes to infuse energy into the services as well as cut down salary and pension bills

The moment is finally here!

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force announced the radical and transformative Agnipath scheme for the recruitment of youth in the Armed Forces.

In a press conference, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the scheme is being implemented to ensure that the Armed Forces’ profile is “youthful".

“The youth sees the Armed Forces as a matter of prestige and dreams of wearing the uniform. The scheme is being implemented to ensure Armed Forces’ profile is youthful," Rajnath Singh said.

Lt Gen Anil Puri of the Department of Military Affairs said that it will ensure a youthful profile of the Armed Force with younger, fitter, diverse, more trainable recruits in the changing technological environment.

“Yuva is known by Josh, Jazba, Junoon, This when led by good leadership will result in higher risk taking capabilities," Lt Gen Puri was quoted as saying.

But what exactly is the Agnipath recruitment scheme? Is it any different from the Short Service Commission? Who can apply for this recruitment drive? We answer all your questions and much, much more.

Agnipath Scheme Vs Short Service Commission

The idea of the Agnipath recruitment scheme was first floated in 2020. The idea was the brainchild of late Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, who was looking at reducing the burgeoning pension bill as well as revenue expenditure in terms of salaries and other costs.

The Agnipath recruitment scheme will only be restricted to Jawans and not be extended to the officer-level, as there is the Short Service Commission.

For those who are unaware, the Short Service Commission is limited to the officer cadre of the Indian Army. It started during World War II when the British realised that they needed far more officers then those who could be commissioned from either Sandhurst or the JSW (Joint Services Wing).

These officers came on a contract for five-10 years and could be later converted to a permanent commission. This was done till the end of World War II.

Subsequently, in 1962 during the Indo-China War, Emergency Commission was reopened and based on the increasing requirement of the officers, Officers Training School (OTS) in Chennai was opened, which granted short-service commissions for five-10 years.

This form of commission is still prevalent and makes a large chunk of the commissioned officers. As of today, those opting for the short service commission are recruited on a contract for five years, which can be extended or be converted to permanent commission, in select cases.

According to an Economic Times report published in 2020, the Indian Army spends over Rs 6 crore to train an officer under the Short Service Commission. As of today, he doesn’t receive any pension after service and till very recently was not granted medical facilities.

Basely roughly on the Short Service Commission plan, the ‘Tour of Duty’ will recruit Jawans for a term of three years.

Officials have cited the Kargil War of 1999 for the basis of the three-year period. An officer had told The Print then, “In the Kargil conflict, officers and Jawans with less than three years of service had shown an exemplary performance.”

Citing the benefits of the Tour of Duty scheme, an official had said that the cost of a Jawan, with his training and other expenses, would come down to Rs 80-85 lakh, which would help in releasing funds for military modernisation.

Tenure, Eligibility, Salaries For Agniveers

The scheme will see 46,000 youngsters from the age of 17.5 to 21 being inducted into the three branches of the Armed Forces — the Army, Navy and Air Force — this year and the soldiers recruited under the scheme would be called 'Agniveer'.

They will serve only for four years, including a training period of six months instead of between 15 and 19 years. The qualification criteria for soldiers is to remain the same as before.

Soldiers recruited under the scheme will get a monthly salary ranging between Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000. They will be granted risk and hardship allowance separately at par with regular soldiers based on where they are posted.

The soldiers will also get a ‘Seva Nidhi’ package under which an Agniveer will contribute 30 per cent of his emoluments with the government making a matching contribution. At the end of four years, this amount of Rs 11.71 lakh, will be given to the soldier, and will be tax-free.

A draft of the scheme states that all soldiers in the Indian Army would eventually be recruited under this model, of which around 25 per cent would be released after three years and another 25 per cent on completion of five years. The remaining 50 per cent would continue to serve in the Army for the full term till they reach their retirement age.

Sources speaking to Indian Express also said that based on skills acquired during training and tenure, the soldiers are likely to be awarded a diploma.

Furthermore, a holistic approach will be in place to ensure that soldiers leaving after the four-year period will be rehabilitated into society.

Benefits of The Agnipath Scheme

Besides the monetary benefit — as these inductees won’t receive a pension, which makes up half of the defence budget spending — the defence establishment looks at the new scheme as a solution to the issue of lack of manpower.

This is significant in the current climate where the nation is facing a serious threat from China as well as Pakistan at the borders.

In December 2021, the Centre had said in Rajya Sabha that the Armed Forces faced a shortage of 9,362 officers and 1,13,193 personnel.

Giving a breakdown, Minister of State (Defence) Ajay Bhatt had said in a written replay that in the Indian Army, 7,476 posts of officers and 97,177 posts of junior commissioned officers and other ranks were vacant.

Similarly, in the Indian Air Force, a total 621 officers and 4,850 junior commissioned officers and other ranks were vacant. In the Indian Navy, 1,265 officers and 11,166 junior commissioned officers and other ranks’ posts had not been filled.

The shortages have become even more prominent as neither the Army, Navy, nor Air Force has held any recruitment rallies in the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reactions To The Scheme

Many have hailed the recruitment scheme.

An officer speaking to media had said, “A young man would ‘retire’ as a Jawan at the age of around 26 years or even less, and would be a very attractive and prime recruit for the government sector and corporates. Such a young man would enjoy a huge advantage over others.”

A senior officer at the NCC Directorate of West Bengal and Sikkim had echoed similar sentiment, saying, “The Army is held in very high esteem by youngsters and while many do not want a career in the force, they would be happy to serve a short stint in the army for the thrill, adventure and pride involved in serving in uniform.”

Anand Mahindra, the Chairman of the Mahindra Group, had also given a thumbs-up to the scheme. He had then said, “I definitely think military training will be an added advantage as they enter the workplace. In fact, considering the rigid standards of selection and training in the Indian Army, the Mahindra Group will be happy to consider their candidature.”

However, not everyone is happy about the Agnipath recruiting scheme.

Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (Retd), a former deputy chief of army staff, flagged certain issues with the new scheme. In a column published by The Wire, he wrote that as it would be a four-year employment, along with training, the training imparted to those through this scheme wouldn’t be as rigid.

News18 also flagged another issue with the scheme — that the vacancies created by those retiring through the new scheme at the end of four would also start adding up.

Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, former director general of military operation in a report to The Week said that the dedication, zeal and professionalism of the Indian soldier is unmatched, as he fights for Naam, Namak and Nishan. Naam (name) means the reputation of the Paltan (regiment). Namak (salt) means loyalty, and Nishan (sign) is the colours of the regiment.

“This ‘out-of-the-box’ solution (Agnipath) is purely based on a cost-benefit analysis without factoring in the adverse impact on combat effectiveness and operational readiness,” he said. He added that it was not in line with the ethos of the Indian Armed Forces. On the shorter training period, specifically, he said: “An under-trained soldier may put everyone’s life in danger.”