Rahul and Rajnath spar in Parliament over compensation for Agniveers

‘This scheme has been brought after a lot of thought,’ the Defence Minister said; suggestions had been taken from 158 organisations

Updated - July 01, 2024 10:35 pm IST

Published - July 01, 2024 10:29 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh speaks in  Lok Sabha during ongoing Parliament session, in New Delhi, on July 1, 2024.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh speaks in Lok Sabha during ongoing Parliament session, in New Delhi, on July 1, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Agnipath scheme for the recruitment of soldiers, which was a major poll issue in the recently concluded General Election, led to a heated exchange between the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Parliament on July 1. Asking Mr. Gandhi to not mislead the House by “making wrong statements”, Mr. Singh said the next of kin of Agniveers killed in the line of duty received financial assistance of ₹1 crore.

“One Agniveer lost his life in a landmine blast but he is not called a ‘martyr’. I call him a martyr but the Government of India does not call him a martyr. PM Modi does not call him a martyr — he calls him an Agniveer. His family will not get a pension. They won’t get compensation Agniveer is use-and-throw, like a labourer,” Mr. Gandhi said. The exchange took place in Hindi.

Also read: Will the Agnipath scheme be revamped? | Explained

Mr. Singh objected to Mr. Gandhi’s statement. “He [Mr. Gandhi] should not try to mislead the House by making wrong statements. Financial assistance of ₹1 crore is given to the family of the Agniveer who sacrifices his life while protecting our borders or during war,” the Defence Minister said.

“I am not wrong, sir,” Mr. Gandhi said in response, and repeated, “I am not wrong, sir.”

Agniveers are not entitled to pension and emoluments but a lump-sum package on the completion of four years of service. According to their terms of engagement, in the case of their demise as a battle casualty, the emoluments due to their next of kin include ₹48 lakh non-contributory insurance, ex-gratia of ₹44 lakh, ‘Seva Nidhi’ with 30% contributed by the Agniveer and an equal matching contribution from the government, and interest thereon. In addition, next of kin receive pay for the balance tenure from the date of death to completion of four years (about ₹13 lakh), and a contribution of ₹8 lakh from the Armed Forces Battle Casualty Fund.

Announced in June 2022, under the Agnipath scheme, Agniveers are recruited into the armed forces for four years, doing away with the earlier process, with the age bracket for new recruits fixed at 17-and-a-half years to 21 years. On the completion of four years, Agniveers have the opportunity to join as regular personnel through another recruitment process in which up to 25% candidates are selected.

Mr. Gandhi said the scheme was creating a divide between soldiers. “One will get the name of a martyr, while one [the Agniveer] will not. One will get the pension, while the other will not. An Agniveer is not called a jawan. And then call yourself a patriot,” he said.

Clarifying further on the Agnipath scheme, Mr. Singh said direct communication had been established with many people, suggestions had been taken from 158 organisations, and then the scheme had been introduced. “This scheme has been brought after a lot of thought,” the Minister said.

In a report tabled in Parliament in February, the House panel on Defence recommended that, considering the plight of family members and next of kin of Agniveers killed in the line of duty, the same benefits should be provided to their family members as were provided to the family of a soldier.

Usage of ‘martyr’

Over the years, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs have on several occasions reiterated that there is no official usage of the term ‘martyr’.

“Marty refers to a person who suffers death as a penalty for witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion or a person who suffers very much or is killed because of their religious or political beliefs,” the Army Headquarters had clarified in a routine reminder to its commands in a letter dated February 2, 2022, while noting that the “continued reference to Indian Army soldiers as martyrs may not be appropriate”.

The letter had also listed six terms that could be used for fallen soldiers — “killed in action”, “laid down their lives”, “supreme sacrifice for the nation”, “fallen heroes”, “Indian Army braves”, and “fallen soldiers”. The Home Ministry has also reiterated this on several occasions.

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