Military Affairs Department seeks feedback from three services on Agnipath scheme

The Agnipath scheme has become a major poll issue in the Lok Sabha election, with the Congress pledging to abolish it if voted to power.

Updated - May 23, 2024 10:22 pm IST

Published - May 23, 2024 10:10 pm IST - NEW DELHI

First batch recruit soldiers under the Agnipath scheme of the Indian Armed forces undergo training at the 1 EME centre in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad. File

First batch recruit soldiers under the Agnipath scheme of the Indian Armed forces undergo training at the 1 EME centre in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad. File | Photo Credit: AFP

As the Agnipath scheme for the recruitment of soldiers into the three services completes two years, the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), headed by the Chief of Defence Staff, has sought feedback from the forces on the scheme.

A meeting was held in this regard on Wednesday where the progress was reviewed at the highest level, it has been learnt.

Monthly reports are being regularly sent by the units, formations, and regimental centres to the Army headquarters with marks, a source in the know said. “Feedback is received from all units, compiled at various formations and sent to headquarters, along with an averaged out quantified feedback. Marks are given out of 10 on various attributes,” the source said.

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 age bracket for the new recruits was fixed at 17.5 years to 21 years of age. 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.

The Agnipath scheme has become a major poll issue in the Lok Sabha election, with the Congress pledging, in its election manifesto, to abolish the scheme and revert to the earlier manner of permanent recruitment if voted to power.

Speaking at an event in March, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh defended the scheme and said the future of youth joining as Agniveers would not be impacted. He added that the government was “open” to bringing any changes in the scheme “if required”.

To questions on the issue, an official source said the Army conducted regular reviews to ensure efficacy and currency of its policies on human resources. Noting that the Agnipath scheme was introduced in June 2022 as a “transformational” approach to human resource management in the armed forces, the source added, “Regular feedback is being obtained periodically from all stakeholders which has been instrumental in ensuring smooth, timely and error free implementation of the scheme and adequacy of policies.”

The Navy and the Air Force have already compiled the feedback which is ready to be sent to the DMA, multiple sources confirmed, while stating that the Army was still in the process of compilation and would take some more time.

As reported by The Hindu last year, deliberations have been going on within the services over increasing the intake size per batch from around 46,000 and also the recruitment to permanent cadre from 25% to 50% as the services, especially the Army, look to make up for the shortage in personnel that has accumulated over the past three years.

Multiple sources at various levels stressed that these inputs must be part of the feedback sent to the DMA.

Army Commanders’ conference

It has been learnt that the headquarters at various levels of the Army had sent agenda points on the Agnipath scheme for the Army Commanders Conference, the apex biannual deliberations, held in April. The agenda points relate to the functional aspects of Agniveers, both technical and non-technical. However, these points did not make it to the final agenda that was taken up for discussion by the Army Commanders, at least two sources independently confirmed.

In the first intake, the Army inducted 40,000 Agniveers in two batches; the first batch was inducted by the first half of December 2022 and the second batch by the first half of February 2023. The Navy and Air Force are recruiting around 3,000 Agniveers each per year. All recruitment in the forces for soldiers, sailors, and airmen are now being done through the Agnipath scheme.

There was no recruitment during the pandemic for over two-and-half years. Around 60,000 soldiers retire from the Army every year which has led to a significant shortage. Further, the limit of the recruitment numbers as well the low conversation rate of 25% to regular soldiers is going to further accentuate the shortfall year-on-year.

As reported earlier, deliberations have also been held to increase the age limit for entry through the technical route from 21 years to 23 years to attract enough technically qualified individuals.

The government had stated that the Agnipath scheme would bring down the average age of the armed forces from 32 to 26 years in line with the age profile of major armies across the world.

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