The Government of India has proposed a new concept of recruitment for the armed forces calling the youth to come forward as Agniveers to serve the motherland by treading the path of Agnipath.
It is proposed that the youth will be sent on a tour of duty for a period of three years, and they will be eligible for government service. The thought is noble but is fraught with uncertainties.
A profession of arms is not a career, it’s a way of life. Traditionally generation after generation followed the footsteps of their fathers and in the present day the mothers too.
Let’s Try & Understand What Does This Involve?
Indian Defense Forces have been a volunteer force for all ranks. There is no draft, volunteers are put through a selection process and tested for their medical fitness and put through rigorous training of approximately 44 weeks, in which a trainee is put through the basics of military training which encompasses physical training, drill, fieldcraft, weapon training while developing a strong bonding with co-trainees, which last a lifetime.
The period of 44 weeks each recruit/trainee is under close observation and assessment and those who are weak, undisciplined, cannot imbibe the ethos, traditions of the services, are weeded out. This ensures that the young soldier passing out from the regimental centres/training academies are responsible citizens trained to fight and kill and not mercenaries who are hired guns, who are neither accountable nor responsible.
What Are The Challenges?
The Indian Army in particular is tasked to combat external threats but internal strive as well. Since independence the Indian Army has been in a state of No War No Peace.
The Indian Army is trained to fight along the coastal plains, jungles, and plains with multiple obstacles, semi-desert/deserts, high altitude and super high altitude. To be a trained and skilled warrior is an investment of time and effort over several years. Regular training and honing battle procedures and drills so that the team from the rank and file to a unit function as well-oiled fighting machine. Fighting units operate in a buddy pair system, the faith trust and confidence in accomplishing the mission is a criticality that cannot be ignored at the cost of National Security.
A three-year tour of duty will be a challenge for the units who will not know what to do with young eager beavers engaged to perform in a serious profession of soldiering.
Rationale – Tour Of Duty
The political leadership have views that Indian youth needs to be ‘disciplined’ and ‘desh-bhakti’, love for country above all else. It seems an easy path to generate more employment opportunities for the underprivileged youth. Bring about an egalitarian culture for parity and tolerance nationwide, without any prejudice against women, religion or politics.
Create an economically strong India, with peace and amity, internally and externally. The political leaders have turned their focus mainly on the military, paramilitary and Department of Defence Production.
The ‘takeaway’ that the political leadership hopes for is not just inculcation of self-discipline and value system of the military by youth, but also vocational training with some technical content, which would help them find employment in the civic ‘milieu’ in India or abroad.
It will also ameliorate the ‘fighting strength’ shortfalls that armed forces have been lamenting for a long. Now the regimental recruitment is from specific catchment areas. This is likely to become ‘pan India’,
In a survey conducted by the Ministry of Labour & Employment, amongst 62 MSMEs and 43 Pvt, Ltd and Public enterprises, almost 98% responded that they would prefer to have a disciplined labor force with a military background.
The Flaw In The Proposal
I do not disagree that jobs have to be created, the youth should be disciplined, love and respect for the country is supreme.
The current recruitment procedures allow the volunteers to join irrespective of color, caste, creed and religion.
Discipline is because the serving personnel have restricted rights and are under the Defence Services Regulations and the respective Acts of the service. A veteran is not under these restrictions and hence the newly found freedom is often seen as a vacuum and pressure release valve to give vent to feelings throttled over the years, what is the guarantee that a youngster who has been fast-tracked into the services and has had to endure the hardships against his/her will not be disgruntled.
A trip to the hills of Kulu-Manali will reflect the number of Israeli released soldiers who seek nirvana in the good weed available.
The total cost (from pre-commissioning training up to severance package) for an SSC officer serving for a 10-year term works out to 5.12 Crores and for a 14-year term it climbs up to 6.93 Crores. If an officer gets the PC, the liability for his pay and allowances up to an age of 54 years is another 3 Crores while about 9 Crore is spent in pensions say up an age of 75 years.
Compared to the above, the end-to-end cost of a Tour of Duty combatant is being projected as 80-85 Lakhs”.
The above demonstrates how easy it is to take the public, especially the simple and trusting serviceman for a ride. The calculations seem to convey that the cost on a Tour of Duty combatant is only 80-85 lakhs, while that of a regular commissioned officer who serves till the age of 54 years is 9.93 crores. Of course, what has not been conveyed is that the Tour of Duty combatant is serving for only three years, while the regular officer is serving for approximately 33 years.
It would, therefore, not take one Tour of Duty combatant but 11 of them to replace one regular officer. The cost would thus be anything between 8.8 to 9.35 crores! Where then, is the saving? Only in terms of pensionary benefits? And what do we lose? Growth within the organization, stability, experience & skills, motivation.
The above calculation also mentions that 9 crores would be spent on pensions for a regular officer up to the age of 75 years. How did they arrive at that figure? If, as stated, the officer retires at the age of 54, then he will draw a pension for 21 years or 504 months. 9 crores would thus translate into a monthly pension pay out of 1.75 lakhs per month. Who is getting that amount?
While we do not see any other service or organization carrying out any significant cost-cutting measures, the Armed Forces continue to be the favourite whipping boys of the financial mandarins. Reduce the manpower, reduce the intake, accept existing shortfalls in manpower, reduce the availability of experienced, battle-hardened soldiers, and reduce the quality or capabilities of weapons and equipment. But expect the same level of competence and dedication. All for a few dollars less.
Ex-Gratia Payment – Compensation
The employment of the youth will be in low-intensity conflict, line of control and line of actual control, casualties will occur, a greenhorn vis a vis an experienced soldier is likely to be high and its transient impact on morale and fighting efficiency in the rank and file has to be deliberated upon.
The compensation being paid this day will have to be budgeted for, will these numbers be more or less, needs to be worked out realistically, will we be penny wise and pound foolish? Considering this number is rupees one crore plus on an average.
Let me refer back to Galwan like situation, a clash that was fought with raw courage and left the conscripted soldiers of the PLA at a loss.
It is suggested that the Territorial Army is a platform and has multiple roles wherein volunteers serve, without diluting the combat efficiency of fighting units. Specific assignments to handle social media, hacking, cyber security and OSINT data collection need to be explored.
This social experiment should be tried and tested in the youth wings of the political parties before its imposed on the defence services, police forces and the defence PSUs. The soldiers retiring after 15 years do not find jobs commensurate with their service and experience, after 3 years the same is suspected. National security is a serious business and cannot be played around with as we have an enemy at the door and a very unstable neighborhood in the region. I conclude with this quote: -
uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ
(One is alone responsible for his own degradation or rise. In other words, we must use the intellect to control the mind)
- Bhagwat Gita -
Read MVI's Extended Coverage Of The 'Tour Of Duty' Proposal
About The Author
Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd) is a veteran of the 65 Armored Regiment. He is an analyst who writes on defence & strategy, technologies to include aviation, land and naval systems & homeland security. He is an independent defence business consultant with an M.Sc.- Defense and Strategic Studies, Madras University. Post-Graduate Diploma in Executive Management, MDI Gurgaon, MDP in Human Resource Planning, CDM Secunderabad, MDP in Reinvestment in Human Resources, IIM Lucknow, MDP in Financial Management, NAAA, Shimla.
(Views expressed are the author's own & do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)