Centre clears Agnipath scheme

‘Agniveers’ can apply for regular employment after four years, may get priority for jobs in other government departments

June 14, 2022 01:40 pm | Updated 11:36 pm IST - New Delhi

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with three Services chiefs General Manoj Pande (Army), Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari and Admiral R. Hari Kumar (Navy) during a press conference at National Media Center, in New Delhi on June 14, 2022.

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with three Services chiefs General Manoj Pande (Army), Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari and Admiral R. Hari Kumar (Navy) during a press conference at National Media Center, in New Delhi on June 14, 2022. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday announced the “Agnipath” scheme, as approved by the Union Cabinet, for recruitment of youth in the armed forces for four years. The process of recruitment will commence in 90 days with a planned intake of about 46,000 young men and women this year. This will be the only form of recruitment of soldiers into the three defence services hereon.

Mr. Singh said the scheme was aimed at strengthening national security and also for providing an opportunity to the youth to serve in the armed forces. Recruits under the scheme will be known as “Agniveers”. After completing their four-year service, they can apply for regular employment in the armed forces. They may be given priority over others for various jobs in other government departments.

The move is expected to decrease the average age profile of armed forces personnel from the current 32 years to 24-26 years over a period of time, Lieutenant General Anil Puri, Additional Secretary, Department of Military Affairs, said.

Enrolment to all three services will be through a centralised online system, with special rallies and campus interviews at recognised technical institutes such as the Industrial Training Institutes, and the National Skills Qualifications Framework, Lt. Gen. Puri explained. Recruitment will be carried out on an ‘All India All Class’ basis with the eligibility age ranging from 17.5 to 21 years, with medical and physical fitness standards in accordance with existing norms. The required educational qualification will be Class X-XII.

The “Agniveers” will received an annual package of ₹4.76 lakh in the first year to ₹6.92 lakh in the fourth year, apart from risk and hardship and other allowances as applicable. Under the “Seva Nidhi” package (which is exempt from Income Tax), they will receive about ₹11.71 lakh, including contribution and interest, on completion of service. The recruits will have to contribute 30% of their monthly emoluments to Seva Nidhi, with a matching contribution made by the government. There will be no entitlement to gratuity and pensionary benefits under the scheme. However, the “Agniveers” will be provided non-contributory life insurance cover of ₹48 lakh during their service.

In case of death attributable to service, apart from over ₹1 crore, which will include the “Seva Nidhi” package, full pay for the unserved period will be given. In the case of disability attributable to service, a provision of up to ₹44 lakh based on the percentage of disability, apart from full pay for the unserved period, including “Seva Nidhi” with interest as applicable, has been made.

Upon completion of four years of service, based on organisational requirements and the existing policies of the armed forces, the “Agniveers” will be able to apply for permanent enrolment. Up to 25% of each batch will be enrolled as regular cadre, Lt. Gen. Puri said, and those selected would be required to serve for a further minimum period of 15 years.

The government said the dividends of short military service to the nation, society and the youth of the nation were immense. “This includes inculcation of patriotism, team work, enhancement of physical fitness, ingrained loyalty for the country and availability of trained personnel to boost national security in times of external threats, internal threats and natural disasters,” it said in a statement.

At the press conference, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R. Hari Kumar said the initiative would play a pivotal role in enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of the Navy.

Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Pande listed the scheme’s benefits, which he said included an increase in the technical threshold, better utilisation of recruit training period, and an optimum balance between youth and experience. “The Agniveer, leaving after four years, will be empowered with suitable skills and financial means and carry a unique resume that will significantly enhance his/her value and employability in civil society,” General Pande said. Responding to a question, he said Agniveers would be capable of being deployed on the borders with Pakistan and China.

Stating that the new scheme gave the Air Force an opportunity to draw from the vast pool of talent available in the country, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari, said a short tenure in the force would facilitate military training and inculcate among recruits the qualities of leadership, patriotism, determination, discipline, maturity, courage, camaraderie, orderliness, and the sense of time management.

Commenting on the development, former Indian Ambassador to Russia D. B. Venkatesh Varma said future wars would be won by armies that were lean, mean and agile.

“These are fundamental and overdue reforms of our military. All major world militaries — the U.S., France, China, Russia and others — have undertaken reforms to modernise the mass versus machine ratios, which is a key pillar of modern warfare,” he told The Hindu.

The armed forces’ growing pension bill has been a major concern for the Defence Ministry. Total budget allocation for defence for 2022-23 is ₹5.25 lakh crore, of which revenue allocation is ₹2.33 lakh crore, capital allocation is ₹1.52 lakh crore, and defence pensions add up to ₹1.19 lakh crore.

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