The Data Point | Understanding the pros and cons of Agnipath scheme through numbers

While on the one side, the Agnipath scheme will reduce the burgeoning defence pensions and salaries, on the other, it will further worsen the quality of jobs on offer

June 27, 2022 03:59 pm | Updated June 28, 2022 10:58 am IST

A mob at Secunderabad Railway Station protesting the Agnipath scheme. file photo

A mob at Secunderabad Railway Station protesting the Agnipath scheme. file photo | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

After the government announced the Agnipath scheme on June 14, the nation’s youth began protesting. Many of them had spent the last two years, during which defence recruitment was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing for the written test of the Defence Services. Their plans of having a long-term career in the military have been cut short to four years with this new scheme. Agnipath’s short-term contract means that at the end of four years, 25% of the 46,000 ‘Agniveers’, who will be recruited this year, will stay on for longer-term service positions. The rest, the government says, will be given preference when applying for other government jobs. However, the scheme does not offer Agniveers any gratuity and pensionary benefits, and the Rs. 48 lakh non-contributory life insurance cover is only valid during the service. With protests continuing, and the government doubling down on the scheme, it appears as though the allure and promise of stability that defence jobs once provide is gone. Instead, Agniveers will get the following:

The Defence Ministry argues that one of the benefits of the Agnipath scheme is that, over time, the average age of the armed forces personnel will be reduced to 26 years, a significant drop from the current average of 32 years. Defenders of the scheme claim that training younger people will “make these men returning to the civilian world more disciplined and employable.” 

Reducing pension burden

At present, over 70% of the defence budget is used for revenue expenditure, with over 50% specifically being used for pensions. Funding for research and development receives less than 5% and capital expenditure, meant for the modernisation of the forces, receives only about 30%. The money set aside just for pensions is actually higher than the total budgeted amount for some ministries. With pensions dominating the department’s accounts, resources aimed at improving infrastructure, technology and training cannot monetarily be the priority.

Additionally, the number of defence pensioners is on the rise. Defence pensioners form half of all Union government retirees and double the number of ex-railway employees. The number of defence pensioners has increased by around 10 lakh in the last seven years. 

Read more about the burden of pension here .

Quality of jobs

While the financial relief that the scheme offers to the government seems like a valid reason to go ahead with it, the lack of quality jobs in India cannot be ignored. In 2020-21, 54% of salaried workers in India were not eligible for social security benefits. In fact, the Agnipath scheme comes at a time when the pandemic has worsened the quality of jobs. In 2017-18, only 50% of workers had no such benefits. The situation is even worse among rural areas, with about 59% workers lacking benefits in 2020-21.   

Moreover, close to 64% had no written contract for their jobs and about 48% were not eligible for paid leave according to PLFS 2020-21.

Given that the Agniveers have no pension or gratuity benefits, the scheme will further worsen the quality of jobs on offer in India.

Ex-army men unable to get jobs

The government says that even though 75% of Agniveers won’t be absorbed into longer-term roles in the defence, they will go on to make up a young, highly-skilled and disciplined workforce, making them stand out among other candidates. 

Ex-servicemen have vacancies reserved for them in government jobs. News reports show that Agniveers who exit the service may also get absorbed in similar quotas. However, official datashow that currently, such quotas are not getting filled. 

For instance, ex-servicemen have a 24.5% quota in group D jobs in Central Public Sector Undertakings. However, as of June 2021, only 0.3% were filled by them. They have a 10% quota in Group C jobs under Central Armed Police Forces; however only 0.47% were filled by them. 

So, there is no assurance that the 75% who will be let go after four years will not meet the same fate.  

Chart of the week

The chart shows the gap between the cost of supply of power distribution companies and the average revenue realised (in ₹ per kWh) for every unit of energy sold in select India States. For instance, for every unit of energy sold by TANGEDCO in Tamil Nadu, the discom earned ₹2.09 less than the cost spent on supplying it.

A positive value indicates that supply costs are higher than revenues and so the utility is making a loss. A negative value indicates that the utility is making a profit.

Due to the dismal revenue earned on energy sold, the power distribution companies are unable to pay the power generation companies, which in turn are not able to pay the high international prices and buy coal. When read along with the fact the internal coal supply is not enough to meet the rising power demand, it shows that the cash-strapped power generators are now in a mess.

Read more about the issues plaguing thermal power generators here.

Fortnightly figures

140.52 lakh hectares were covered by Kharif crops this year as of June 24, a 24% decrease compared to the same period last year. In 2021, 184.44 lakh hectares were sown. 

$ 1,279 million worth of crude oil was imported by India from Russia in April 2022. This makes Russia the fourth-biggest oil supplier to India. In April 2021, Russia exported $226 million worth of crude oil to India, the ninth biggest supplier. In April 2020, with just $29 million worth of oil exports, Russia was the 16th biggest supplier. 

$2.02 billion in remittances by Indians were recorded in April 2022, two times the levels seen a year before, according to an RBI bulletin. 

67 cases of Zika virus have been detected in India after 1,520 patients’ samples were analysed by the National Institute of Virology. Scientists warn of a silent spread of the disease in New Delhi, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Punjab and Telangana.

Flashback: a look back at how we got here

With a majority of Shiv Sena MLAs joining a rebellion, the political crisis in Maharashtra has put the spotlight back on the ugly history of defections in India. This data point titled “How many re-contesting candidates switched sides before 2021 State polls” showed that Congress lost the most candidates to such defections, while the BJP gained the most in the 2021 State elections.

On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade judgment that gave women the right to choose to have an abortion. This was a victory to Republicans and religious conservatives who have long wanted to strictly limit or completely ban the procedure. The data point titled, “How the composition of judges affects the abortion rights in the U.S.”, shows how State-specific abortion laws will be affected if the ruling is overturned.  

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