The Agnipath recruitment programme has been “fully thought through,” according to Army Vice Chief Lieutenant General B S Raju, Vice Chief of the Army Staff, and any changes will be made at the end of four or five years.
Lt Gen Raju stated the plan is a “pilot project” in an interview with The Indian Express on the day the Army published a notification for obligatory online registration of all Agnipath job hopefuls. Agnipath, he said, represents a “fundamental shift” in military recruitment, and that everyone must “accept the change.”
The VCOAS’s comments come in the wake of violent protests across the country against the Agnipath programme. Youth who have been waiting to join the forces since 2020 — when a recruitment freeze was imposed — have gone on a rampage against the new scheme, which will only take in a limited number of people and does not guarantee a permanent job, pension, or health benefits for those who leave the three services after four years.
The VCOAS’s comments come in the wake of violent protests across the country against the Agnipath programme. (File/ANI)
“If there is a need to alter the methods of recruiting, percentages of retention-extension, or anything of that nature, it will be done at the end of four to five years, once we have some reasonable data.” “Right now, we have a well-thought-out policy that we are putting in place,” Raju explained.
“What we are doing is basically a trial project…,” he said when asked why the armed services had not conducted a pilot project that would have provided this data earlier. Yes, it is considered a pilot project at the rate it is happening. It’s possible we didn’t label it a pilot project. This, on the other hand, is a work-in-progress. So what we’re doing is something akin to a pilot project, but with very specific deadlines. The administration has stated repeatedly that it is open to changes based on our experience.”
He stated that he would not be able to forecast what will be changed. “Necessary changes will be made based on our experience over the next four to five years.” (The changes could be made on any front.)”
Raju stated that modifications to regiments will be made “extremely slowly” and that homogeneous units would not be phased out immediately. “We are not in a hurry to change anything along these lines,” he remarked, in response to complaints that the ‘All India, All Class’ recruitment would jeopardise fighting unit cohesion, which had hitherto been based on personnel homogeneity.
He dismissed the notion that the flurry of announcements made after the policy for re-employment of ex-Agnives was announced — 10% reservation in Central Armed Police Forces; 10% in Coast Guard and Defence PSUs; two-year age relaxation; preference for Agnives in state police services — indicated that the policy had not been well thought out.
“I disagree with your assertion that (policymaking) appears to be done on the fly. Because the only change and announcement that has occurred is from 21 to 23 years, all other proposals are coming from other businesses to strengthen the government’s programme to care for the 75% of people who will be leaving. So it’s an addition to what the government had already planned to provide,” he explained.
This includes a tax-free financial package worth Rs 11.71 lakh from Seva Nidhi, in addition to his four-year remuneration of Rs 11.72 lakh. “So, a young lad who comes in at the age of 18 comes back with roughly 24 lakh rupees after four years,” Raju explained. An ex-Agniveer can also obtain a loan of Rs 18 lakh over three years using the Seva Nidhi package as collateral, according to the government.
“So we assumed — and continue to believe — that he has various options outside.” It is not intended to provide him with a pension at the end of four years; rather, it is intended to develop him into a more capable young man. The more capable individuals are retained within the system, ensuring a balance of people with a wide range of talents. Depending on whether he has joined the infantry, EME, Signals, or Engineers, each individual receives a unique set of skills. So we suggested to these people that this kind of money will provide him a second option, a secondary opportunity to either study – he goes from Class 10 to Class 12 – or to work (at the end of four years). They also issue him an NSQ (National Skills Qualification) formatted multiple skilling certificate. As a result, he is ready to move on to the next stage of his life. And we used to believe that was enough. Now there is new information in the surroundings indicating he requires government employment. But that was not the goal; instead, Raju defended the scheme by saying, “The goal was to skill him and place him in an environment where he finds several options in front of him, to be an entrepreneur himself.”
He noted that implementation would be gradual, with 40,000 people hired this year, the same amount in 2023, 45,000 in 2024, and 50,000 in 2025.
“As a result, the number of Agniveers entering the system will be quite tiny.” If any adjustments are needed along the process, we will make them. So, in an army battalion of 880 individuals, we’ll have 120 by the end of four years (Agniveers). As a result, we may only have one to two people in a section. That is the change rate. 75 percent of Agniveers will leave the company for the first time in four years. So we’ll take our time and learn as we go, and we’ll make the appropriate improvements,” he said.
Raju described the programme as a “fundamental shift” in recruitment. “As a result, all of us must learn to accept change.” It is to provide (a young person) with the opportunity to serve the country for four years before leaving to pursue other interests. “It’s not a goal in and of itself,” he explained.
Raju dismissed the charge that the Army will become a “finishing school” for providing skills to Class 10 graduates, calling it a “false” interpretation.
“We’re not going to provide him any further training or skills that aren’t related to the job he’s doing. So, if we have an EME boy named (Agniveer) who is responsible for vehicle maintenance. That is captured as a talent, so if he wants to start his own workshop or work as a supervisor in a workshop, those opportunities are available,” he said.
A cap of 50% Agniveers in the Army’s makeup, according to Raju, would assure balance. The remaining 50% would be the “permanent force,” which would be drawn from the 25% hired from each four-year Agniveer batch.
According to the VCOAS, the number of Agniveer recruits might reach 1.30 lakh every batch, implying that the 25% rehired would also increase proportionately.
“In whatever shape it occurs, we are extremely certain that there will still be a highly effective fighting force,” he said, even if regiments become more varied in 10 years. He offered samples of the Army’s current “mixed class” combat arms.
“Even within the infantry, we have excellent examples, whether it’s the Brigade of Guards, Mahar regiment, parachute battalion, or Special Forces unit.” They’ve all been thoroughly mixed and have functioned admirably. Today, we can go into battle with great faith that a diverse group of people can join together, bond, and perform admirably as warriors.”
“The Rashtriya Rifles are another example” (counterinsurgency force deployed in J&K). When RR arrived 30 years ago, there were many concerns about how this disparate group of people from Infantry, ASC, EME, and Signals would function together. The RR is now one of the best forces in the world, performing admirably in insurgencies and on the Lines of Control and Actual Control. As a result, we have excellent examples of people of this sort getting together,” he explained.
Despite concerns that the ‘All India, All Class’ recruitment would favour some states, Raju said, “the mandate of change that is going place is that (recruitment) must expand out across the country” and gradually shift from the current intense density in specific locations to all parts of India.
“Slowly, that drop will occur from high-density recruitment areas, allowing people from under-represented states to participate” (can also enter). However, this is contingent on those states’ ability to contribute. There’s a chance we’ll go to an area where we don’t have enough representation, but we might not receive a response. As a result, we will continue to take from areas where there is already sufficient supply. As a result, there will be little environmental management,” he explained.
Concerns about Agniveer rivalry over who gets to stay and who has to depart at the end of four years, he added, are unfounded. “The system is not new to competition. “Having said that, we’re also stating that the man who’s going out is being given a good start in his second innings,” he explained.