Explained: Why is Agnipath soldier recruitment scheme so controversial
- Agnipath is Indian government's scheme to overhaul the soldier recruitment system
- Protests have broken out across the nation against the Agnipath scheme
- The Centre seems amenable to tweaking the policy in the face of protests
The Agnipath scheme, Indian government’s overhaul of the nation’s soldier recruitment system, has triggered a wave of protests across the country. Violent protests have been reported from at least seven states. In Telangana’s Secunderabad, one person has died in course of protests, NDTV reported. Trains are burning and railway stations are clogged and the central government has started feeling the heat from aspirants.
What is the Agnipath recruitment scheme?
The Agnipath recruitment scheme seeks to create a contractual provision within the Indian Armed Forces. Youngsters between ages 17.5 to 21 will be hired as ‘Agniveers’ and placed within relevant ranks. They will receive months-long training and be paid between Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 per month.
At the end of four years, 25% of these youths will be recruited into permanent positions where they will serve a minimum of 15 years. The remaining 75% will be released with a lumpsum pay of Rs 11.5 lakh. Those released will not be entitled to any retirement or medical benefits.
Soldiers before Agnipath
The Agnipath recruitment scheme is nearly a comprehensive overhaul of the system the Indian government uses to recruit soldiers. In the system preceding Agnipath, people between ages 16.5 to 21 would be recruited into the Armed Forces directly for a minimum period of 15 years. At the end of 15 years of service, the soldiers will receive pension and other medical benefits.
Why is Agnipath this controversial?
Those protesting the Agnipath scheme are worried that the new policy will take away the guarantee of tenure with services in the Armed Forces. Protestors feel soldiers recruited through this policy will be forced to forge new careers at the end of four years of service. They want recruits to be hired for a minimum of 15 years in accordance with the old system.
Meanwhile, not all defence members are enthused about the prospect of four-year hires. Some retired service officers said the new four-year recruits will be like tourist soldiers and will affect the morale of the Armed Forces.
Further, there are also concerns that the new scheme will alter the composition of Indian Army regiments that hire people from specific regions as well as castes, such as the Jats, Rajputs and Sikhs.
How is the government addressing the row?
The Indian government is looking to make several provisions in order to address some of the apprehensions about the Agnipath scheme. On Thursday, the Ministry of Defence said people up to the age of 23 will be allowed to partake in recruitment in 2022. This will be a one-time allowance because recruitments remained closed for two consecutive years.
Further, the government has also said that once soldiers finish their four-year tour of duty, they will be recommended to various security units working across the country. On the question of morale, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the scheme will be a golden opportunity for young Indians to serve their country. On the regiment question, media reports indicate that the regimental system will continue.