“Agnipath” for Indian youth as 46000 “Agniveers” to be recruited in next 90 days

In its endeavour to give youthful outlook to three wings of its defence forces and revive recruitment in Amy, Navy and Air Force after a gap of two years, the Union Cabinet on Tuesday gave its approval to  a new casteless merit-based all-India  recruitment scheme. 

The recruitment to first batch of 46,000 youth, both boys and girls aged between 17.5  and 21 years, will start within next 90 days. Seventy-five per cent of those recruited under the scheme will go home after serving the defence forces for four years without any pensionary benefits. They, however, will get a  financial or severance package, called Seva Nidhi to help them relocate in the post-defence forces career.

The Agnipath scheme appears to be part of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s  wider employment plans that he had been talking about at various public rallies. Of 1.5 lakh jobs he is promising, it is now clear that 46,000 will be in defence forces.

Starting with a salary of Rs 30,000, of which 70 per cent will be paid in hand and the remaining 30 per cent will go to the Seva Nidhi fund to which  the Union Government will make a matching 30 percent contribution.  

The monthly salary would go up to a maximum of Rs 40,000 in the fourth year. The contribution to Seva Nidhi will remain 30 percent throughout the tenure of the scheme.

At the end of four year tenure, Seva Nidhi account will have  equal contributions of Rs 5.02 lakh each from an Agniveer and the Union Government. With an accumulated interest on the joint contributions, each Agniveer would get Rs 11.71 as post retirement  or severance package. 

The details of the scheme were revealed by the Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh after the Union Cabinet meeting. Accompanying him at the Press briefing were all the three chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force.

The new scheme, he said, would bring in radical changes, including induction of more women and change in the composition of certain British era regiments where soldiers were recruited on caste basis.

the Agnipath scheme, it will entail induction of troops into the Army, IAF and Navy for four years as jawans, airmen and sailors, respectively. “The Agniveers (name for those recruited under the scheme) will form a distinct rank in the armed forces, different from any other existing rank,” the Ministry of Defence said.

The selection would be purely on merit and all-India basis and 25 per cent of those recruited under the Agnipath scheme would have chance for permanent absorption in the Armed forces.

In case of death of an Agniveer during his or her service period, a compensation of Rs 1 crore would be paid to the bereaved family.

Those leaving the service after four years would get job opportunities in several ministries, public sector undertakings, said Rajnath, adding that some states had also agreed to give them jobs.

Though the Union Defence Minister denied that the scheme was aimed to cut the flab of the growing pensionary budget of the defence forces, he maintained that idea was to bring down their age profile. Money, he said, was no issue as far as the defence forces were concerned.

Defence analysts point out that the pension budget of the defence forces was  reaching levels past their salary bill and there was serious thinking at various levels of changing the service related rules, including recruitment and subsequent collateral absorption in other central departments to keep both salary and pensionary budgets manageable.

The scheme is considered a watered down scheme in various countries where all eligible youth are required to serve defence forces for a specified period. Instead of making it compulsory for all youth, the Agnipath scheme is optional and only those who want to seek careers in defence forces can take benefit from the scheme.

After four years in defence forces, the country will have available to it a new strong cadre of disciplined and trained youth ready for absorption in various departments, including police, paramilitary forces and security agencies.

Lt Gen Anil Puri, Additional Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs, said, “At present, the average age of troops is 32 years which will be brought down to 26 years. The selection process will be transparent and also open to women progressively.”

Army Chief General Manoj Pande said, “Around 75% of units are all India, all class, only a limited units have specific class composition. We expect these regiments to evolve from class-based to all-India, all class structure.”

Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said the youth leaving the defence forces after four years would be ready serve the country anywhere.

Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said, “We need to change with time.”