If the Agnipath recruitment model is applied successfully in the Armed Forces, it should be extended to all central government jobs, including allied services and CAPF

by Gen MM Naravane (Retd)

The Agnipath scheme, launched by the Indian government in June 2022, is a transformative shift in military recruitment. It marks a significant departure from traditional recruitment methods, and is a bold step toward restructuring the armed forces with a view to enhancing their operational effectiveness.

Conceived against a backdrop of evolving security challenges and the need to infuse young blood into the military, the Agnipath scheme allows patriotic youth, known as ‘Agniveers’, to serve in the armed forces for four years. After their service, most will be released from the forces to re-join the civil workforce. The primary objective of the scheme is to lower the average age of military personnel, thereby making the forces more dynamic and technologically adept. It also aims to provide the civil labour market with a fresh pool of disciplined and skilled young people, capable of contributing to various sectors of the economy.

It should be noted that our demographic bulge, comprising a large pool of working-age citizens, can be considered an advantage only if this population is skilled and disciplined.

One of the key advantages of the Agnipath scheme is the opportunity it provides young people to serve their country without committing to a long-term career in the military. It also offers a competitive financial package after the four-year basic service, which can be used for further education or starting a business.

Despite these potential benefits, however, the scheme has faced criticism for its potential impact on the post-service career prospects of Agniveers and the absence of pension benefits. Critics also argue that the short duration of service may not be sufficient to instil the values and skills required for a soldier.

How Are Concerns Being Addressed?

The government has responded to some of the concerns about the Agnipath scheme by enhancing the financial package for Agniveers and providing assurances of support for their re-integration into civilian life, including a 10 percent reservation in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Additionally, the upper age limit for recruitment was raised to accommodate aspirants who had become overage while the scheme was being finalised and rolled out.

Nevertheless, it has been averred that the Agnipath scheme has some negative fallout, resulting in a reduced mandate for the BJP in the recent general elections, especially in traditional recruitment areas.

With the return of the NDA for a third term, there have been renewed calls for a comprehensive review of the Agnipath scheme. These include voices from the BJP’s alliance partners, whose support is vital to retain a majority, and there could be heated debates on this matter in the forthcoming session of Parliament. Several newspaper reports have also called for an urgent review of the scheme, with some suggesting specific changes and others recommending the entire scheme’s annulment.

It has been reported the Standing Committee on Defence (SCOD) has also made some recommendations in the last Parliament session.

No Place For Political Expediency

It is important to avoid giving a review of the Agnipath scheme any political connotation. All policies have their advantages and disadvantages, with some anomalies becoming apparent only during rollout and implementation. Such kinks are then ironed out through mid-course corrections. This is a normal and routine exercise anywhere in the world, whether in the armed forces or the corporate domain.

As part of this routine exercise, the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) had already called for feedback from the three services on the Agnipath scheme much before the elections were announced. The services, in turn, have prepared their feedback based on inputs from all stakeholders. That changes to the scheme were always a possibility is evident from the statement made by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in the Times Now Summit in March 2024, where he said that the government is “open to changes” in the recruitment policy if deemed necessary.

Any reform in the recruitment process should be driven by operational necessity, based on objective feedback and empirical data. Political expediency based on emotions should not cloud judgement. The election results or the demands from coalition partners should not detract from the fact that a review was already on the cards.

Changes, if any, should be made holistically and not in a piecemeal or incremental manner. A change in one parameter can have an impact on a second, which can affect a third, and so on.

Hence, each change must be carefully thought through, including a cost benefit analysis factoring in social aspects and the aspirations of our youth at the grassroot level. Those entrusted with this task should be allowed to do their work without undue pressure in the form of speculative stories in the media and social media platforms. Changes, as and when they occur, should be seen as part of a process and not as something forced upon the government due to political pressures.

New Horizons For Agnipath

The Agnipath scheme is a visionary initiative with the potential, through appropriate modifications, to revolutionise India’s defence forces. While it presents certain challenges, its successful implementation could serve as a model for military recruitment worldwide.

The scheme’s long-term impact on the Armed Forces and the nation remains to be seen, but it undoubtedly represents a significant shift in India’s defence recruitment policy. Now that Rajnath Singh is back at the helm of the Defence Ministry, there is every possibility of the necessary changes coming through.

Finally, and most importantly, if this recruitment approach is applied successfully in the Armed Forces, it should be extended to all central government jobs, including allied services and CAPF. This will go a long way in demonstrating and vindicating the government’s stand that the Agnipath scheme is indeed a transformative and beneficial scheme.

(With Reporting by ThePrint)