Agnipath, modernisation key issues as Rajnath Singh set for second tenure as Defence Minister

The Agnipath scheme, which was a major issue in the just-concluded elections, will need major changes to address operational contingencies of the armed forces as well as concerns from various allies and political parties

Updated - June 11, 2024 09:54 pm IST

Published - June 11, 2024 08:32 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Minister of State for Defence Sanjay Seth calls on Defence Minister Rajnath Singh before assuming office, in New Delhi on June 11, 2024.

Minister of State for Defence Sanjay Seth calls on Defence Minister Rajnath Singh before assuming office, in New Delhi on June 11, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

As Rajnath Singh takes charge as Defence Minister for a second consecutive term, top issues on the agenda are the Agnipath scheme, pending military modernisation, with focus on indigenisation in addition to situation on the borders, especially with China, where the stand-off in eastern Ladakh still continues. The Agnipath scheme, which was a major issue in the just-concluded elections, will need major changes to address operational contingencies of the armed forces as well as concerns from various allies and political parties.

“Safeguarding India’s border will remain our topmost priority and we shall continue protecting India’s integrity and sovereignty. Under the visionary leadership of PM Modi we shall rededicate ourselves to strengthen ‘Make in India’ and take defence manufacturing and exports to greater heights,” Mr. Singh said on social media ‘X’ on Monday evening after the portfolios were officially announced. A Member of Parliament from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, he took over as the Defence Minister for the first time on June 1, 2019.

On Tuesday, Sanjay Seth, a second-time MP from Ranchi, Jharkhand, took charge as Minister of State in the Defence Ministry. He was received and briefed about the Ministry by Defence Ministry Secretary Giridhar Aramane.

Shortage in soldiers

As reported by The Hindu earlier, as the Agnipath scheme recruitment of soldiers into the three Services completes two years, the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the Defence Ministry headed by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has sought feedback from the forces on the scheme. There is concern in the Services on the increasing shortage in soldiers due to limited recruitment numbers and the very low conversion to permanent ranks.

Key NDA allies, the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas), have already raised the issue of Agnipath and called for a detailed discussion on it soon after the election results, and they, as well as other political parties, are expected to take this up once the government is fully in place. “There is anger among voters with regard to the Agnipath scheme. Our party wants that this scheme is discussed threadbare in the government to remove its flaws,” JD(U) national spokesperson K. C. Tyagi said last week, adding that their party’s support to the NDA was “unconditional”.

On June 14, 2022 the government announced the Agnipath scheme for recruitment of soldiers into the armed forces for four years, doing away with the earlier process. The overall intake has been capped at 1.75 lakh till 2026 and Agniveers on completion of four years will get an opportunity to join regular cadre and up to 25% would be selected through another recruitment process.

Delay in modernisation

Major military modernisation has been underway over the last decade but has seen significant delays for a variety of reasons. Several mega deals are lined up, including for a third aircraft carrier, conventional submarines, additional Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)-1A fighters, among others, in addition to speeding up a series of indigenous development programmes in the pipeline, including nuclear attack submarines, jet engines, early warning aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles range of missiles and rockets among other emerging technologies. These are critical to maintain the force levels while also inducting newer technologies in the backdrop of rapid military modernisation in the region, by both China and Pakistan. In this regard, reorienting the ‘Make in India’ initiative to attain desired results and develop a capable domestic military industrial base is a must.

The reorganisation of the military into integrated theatre commands has been on the agenda for several years and this is the top priority for the CDS. After several years and multiple rounds of discussions, broad contours have been agreed upon between the CDS and three Service chiefs, informed sources said, and these would be presented to the government very soon to take the process forward, it has been learnt.

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