Agnipath's Agnipareeksha

Agnipath has taken a rough turn and triggered rage amongst military veterans, defence aspirants and several opposition leaders which have raised reservations over the entire process .

Agnipath's Agnipareeksha

The Tour of Duty( ToD)  scheme, which was first conceived in 2020, has faced criticism since the day it was announced.

The scheme was modelled on  lines with the existing Short Service Commission (SSC) entry scheme that enabled the selected candidates to offer their service as Commissioned  officers for a period of 10 to 14 years following which they had the liberty to opt for permanent commission (PC)

Two years back it was reported that if the ToD model gets accepted, it shall be something along the lines of an internship which would offer able bodied  youth volunteers with an appropriate chance of experiencing the army life including serving in combat arms for up to three years.

Nearly a week back the ToD scheme, now termed as Agnipath, was announced which seeks to recruit soldiers in the Indian Air Force, Navy and the Indian Army on a short term contract for 4 years. According to the central government, the scheme has an objective of bringing down the average age of personnel and reducing the pension expenditure.

However, the Agnipath has taken a rough turn and triggered rage amongst military veterans, defence aspirants and several opposition leaders which have raised reservations over the entire process .  Several ex-servicemen say that Agnipath can lead to national security threats and can potentially affect the future of serving personnel, hit the fighting spirit, ethos and professionalism of the armed forces of India and lead to militarisation of the civil society.

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What do the veterans have to say

Reflecting a strong disagreement towards the Agnipath scheme several veterans have expressed their views on how the scheme would result in the degradation of the Indian armed forces and cause a potential threat to national security.

In one of the recently  published articles by Mission Victory India, Col. NN Bhatia (Retd) explained that with this new scheme, while the initial recruit training is reduced to half, the half and ill trained recruit would proceed 9 months leave (2 months annual leave and 20 days casual in a year) and catering for odd sickness and travel time, the 4 years would fly before soldiers services are effectively utilised and 75% trained soldiers would be unemployed and on the streets. During his 4 years stint in the army 24x7x365x4 he would be constantly worrying about his absorption in the armed forces rather than as carefree maturing soldier fully committed to his profession.

Major General Rajan Kochhar (Retd) also identified several significant problems that could jeopardise the scheme's success, stating, "The difficulty is going to be moulding the psyche of these young men who will be joining the army and tailing them to the Forces culture." They are well aware that they are here on a temporary basis, and as a result, their motivation may be lower than that of the other men on the permanent commission. The first difficulty will be to change their mindsets, instil regimental spirit in them, and prepare them to perform the Indian Army's allotted roles. The second problem is determining how to re-induct 25% of them into the army after four years. Working out the criteria by which we would pick them for re-induction would be difficult, and the third problem would be how to employ them gainfully; it appears that the ITI and other similar programmes have had little impact so far, so how can we expect these programmes to have an impact now?

Finally, the problem is that the army's knowledge, positions, and various kinds of information that would be available to them could represent a security risk. He believes that understanding national defence is critical, and that no government or authority worth its salt should mess with a national security system.

If you mess around with national security elements, you'll end up jeopardising your security at some point. As a result, ensuring that national security is not jeopardised by the presence of semi-trained soldiers to protect your country would be the most difficult challenge."

"Managing their future concerns, their reemployment, training cut short, assimilation in units where they are known to be for four years," Major General Harsha Kakar (Retd) pondered on the scheme's potential obstacles. Manpower reductions, pension reductions, and salary reductions are all on the table. With existing norms, unknown of recruitment will be from ITI or throughout the country."

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Equally Noteworthy Points

Similarly, Gp Capt Johnson Chacko (Retd) presented his views by stating that one of the tasks in organisation design is to flesh up the structure. First we need to design the structure. What is the design? Are we going ahead with Army>Corps>Div>Bde>Bn model or are we going by IBG (Integrated Battle Groups). Is the former for defence and the latter for offence? Assuming that we go ahead with the former we can derive the needed establishment of Officers/JCOs/NCOs and ORs. Depending on this we need to factor in Wastage (LMC/Retirement/Whatever). Depending on the transition from one rank (level) to the other due to promotions or wastage transition probabilities need to be worked out. Once the establishment and these transition probabilities are known we can use statistical methods to arrive at the figures that need to be inducted for the given terms and conditions of service. Once this is validated with actual data, we know where we are. A similar exercise needs to be carried out with changed terms and conditions of Agnipath.

On the other hand Brig Pradeep Sharma (Retd) says that firstly, to suggest that the Army is most sought after is a fallacy, It is not. Our youth stand in long ques essentially for any job, be it police, railways or others.

Secondly, The often repeated announcement of ballooning costs of Military Pensions is myopic.
The Govt cannot reduce manpower or anything from those civilian organisations because of Unions and Associations with freedom to agitate. Armed forces are easy to cut down for this reason as well as the lack of unity and public support.

The entire debate has sadly been focused on 'Jobs & Future of Youth'  and missing the impact on Operational Efficiency.

What Col Rosy Singh Khandpur (Retd) opines could possibly be a way out? "Very strong views have been expressed regarding the scheme both for and against. While there is no gainsaying that this scheme is flawed ,it can easily be made acceptable to all stake holders by addressing their concerns.  The 'Tour of Duty' for 7 years  should be for 7 years with assured lateral absorption into the central police ,para military forces and the stare armed police . Thus the armed forces will get to retain the most suitable manpower while effecting considerable savings in recruiting and training costs of the  central and state police forces and give the much needed job security to the youth who signed up for the scheme".

The Bottom Line

Maj Gen Rana Goswami opines that there are too many ifs and buts in this scheme. However, the worst is that it will break the very ethos of functioning of the armed forces. 7 - 10 years should have been the very minimum term. In three and a half years, neither can one expect any raw recruit to get the necessary training required to fight a resolute enemy through learning how to employ hi tech weapon systems in use today even in the infantry, nor develop any kind of love and brotherhood for his unit or his comrades in arms and understand the ethos of functioning of the armed forces.

There is a method of basic training, selection of men considered capable, impartment of specific weapon training and administrative training before considering a soldier for promotion and further training for higher ranks with greater responsibilities and accountability in those ranks and specific appointments. In three and a half years, where is the time to train, judge and decide the aptitude or ability on whether to keep/release raw recruits. Every unit has specific tasks both in peace and operational areas.

Now, on top of all their already multifarious tasks, they will have to devote further manpower and time to train recruits who should've been trained by respective regimental centres. There are too many matters, which are difficult to bring out and explain to politicians, bureaucrats or the policeman NSA, none of whom have a clue on how the armed forces function. When and IF things go wrong, the entire blame will come on the CO, when the onus of responsibility should fall on the politicians who have thrust this down the throat of the military, obviously for political gains because of pressures of unemployment and allied issues.


The ToI, Pune news story covered several doubts about the scheme including the status of Agniveers during  their 4 years contract period (including 6 months training) and therafter for the 25% selected Agniveers for regular cadre of soldiers. For complete story refer to the link given below:

Col Vinay Baliram Dalvi, ex-4 Maratha LI (1971-1979), is the founder and Director of Mission Victory India, and the Associate Editor of the Fauji India Magazine. He can be reached at Email: [email protected]

Vaibhav Agrawal is a Defence and Aerospace Journalist at Mission Victory India with his articles/works published in various other digital and print media platforms. He is an Anchor/Host and Correspondent associated with several News Media Organizations. He can be reached out at [email protected]

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

For more defence related content, follow us on Twitter: @MVictoryIndia and Facebook: @MissionVictoryIndia

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