New Delhi: Facing resistance from the “change averse”and conservative officers from the defence forces, the Union Government has started to face a backlash from civilian youth to its new recruitment policy for the armed forces.
According to the Agnipath scheme announced by the Centre, youths aged 17.5 to 21 years would be recruited into the three wings of the armed forces for a four year term, while 25 percent of the recruits – to be called Agniveers – would be retained in the service for a maximum period of 15 years. At the end of the four year tenure, the Agniveers would be entitled to a sign off amount of approximately Rs. 11.7 lakhs, which will include contributory money from both the government and the recruits. At the same time, the government plans to stop the regular recruitment process in the ranks of sepoys and equivalent in the Navy and Air Force.
While retired service officers have been severely critical of the recruitment reform policy, hundreds of youth in over half a dozen centres in Bihar and Rajasthan converged outside the Army Recruitment Boards on Wednesday to protest the decision to provide defence jobs “on contract”.
The financial health of the defence forces have been a cause for worry. Against the total defence budget of 525,166 crores, the outgo on pensions has been Rs. 119,696 crores – with approximately the same amount spent on salaries. With an additional spending on regular maintenance works, the Defence Forces are left with a small amount for modernisation and upgrade works. The Agnipath scheme will help the defence forces cut their bills, as the Agniveers will not be entitled to pensions and other benefits that regular sepoys are entitled to.
The social media has been flush with outrage at the new scheme. Lt General Vinod Bhatia took to Twitter to say that the proposal amounted to sounding the “death knell for the defence forces”, while it would also lead to the “militarisation of society”.
Lt General PR Shankar said the Agniveers would be no better than “badly trained tourists”. The government is apparently looking at reducing the average age of the defence forces from the current 32 years to 25 years by 2030, as only one-fourth of the Agniveers will be retained. But the big worry is this: What will the future hold for these Agniveers who will retire between the ages of 21 to 25 years. According to Lt General Prakash Menon, the government ought to have conducted a pilot project before implementing the new recruitment policy. But, as seen in various decisions in the last eight years, the government has resorted to the “learn while you run” policy.
Journalist by accident, rail, travel and political buff by choice - dissenter by compulsion. Interested in policy and governance.