Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government seems to stand vindicated over its Agnipath scheme for recruitment to the armed forces if registrations received for the Indian Air Force (IAF) are any indication. Shattering all records, the IAF has received more than seven lakh applications under the new recruitment programme that was launched last month. In a tweet, the IAF said that the number of applications was the highest compared to the previous recruitment cycle.
On July 5, the official handle of the IAF tweeted that it has received a total of 7,49,899 applications, surpassing the previous record of 6,31,528 at the close of the online registration process on its official website, which started on June 24.
The online registration process conducted by #IAF towards #AgnipathRecruitmentScheme has been completed.
Compared to 6,31,528 applications in the past, which was the highest in any recruitment cycle, this time 7,49,899 applications have been received.#Agniveers pic.twitter.com/pSz6OPQF2V
— Indian Air Force (@IAF_MCC) July 5, 2022
According to the IAF, all the applicants will be called to appear for the selection exam, which is scheduled to be held from July 25, 2022. Shortlisted candidates will be called for PSL Round on December 1, 2022, and the enrolment of candidates will be held on December 11, 2022.
Candidates will be selected through Phase I and Phase II examinations. Candidates who qualify for the Phase I examination will become eligible to appear for the Phase II examination. The names of the shortlisted candidates, who qualify for the online test, need to appear for Physical Fitness Test (PFT) followed by a medical test.
The Indian Navy has also launched its recruitment under the Agnipath scheme and within days of it, around 10,000 women have registered themselves for the programme. The Navy announced that 20% of its recruitment under the scheme will be reserved for women. Last month, the government came out increased the upper age limit as a one-time chance for aspirants to join the armed forced who have lost two years to the COVID-19 pandemic as there was no recruitment done.
Following the announcement of the Agnipath scheme, protests were witnessed in most parts of the country, demanding a rollback. The Agnipath scheme is an all-India merit-based recruitment scheme for enrolling soldiers, airmen and sailors for an initial period of four years.
Subsequently, the government increased the upper age limit for recruitment under the scheme to 23 years from 21 for the year 2022 and announced a slew of placatory steps like a preference for recruitment in central paramilitary forces and defence public sector undertakings upon their retirement after four years of service. Several BJP-ruled states also declared that ‘Agniveers’, as the soldiers will be known, will be accorded priority for induction into state police forces.
The armed forces have, however, made it clear those who had indulged in violent protests and arson against the new recruitment scheme will not be selected. Despite, the protests the response received seems to have clearly pointed out that the youth of the country were willing to adopt this new policy in far greater numbers than the recruitment being done in a regular manner.
Criticism, which included suggestions like there has been no pilot project to test the scheme, will dilute professionalism, military ethos and fighting spirit, takes seven to eight years to become a fully-trained, combat-ready soldier, Agniveers will be risk-averse, with the bulk looking for a second career, will hit the basic ethos of armed forces of ‘Naam, Namak, and Nishaan’ for which soldiers fight and that the scheme may lead to militarisation of society with around 35,000 combat-trained youth rendered jobless every year, seems to have been left by the wayside.
The lure of short-service as compared to the long-service and having a handsome amount of money in their banks by the time, and if they are relieved from the forces, seems to have taken a precedent over all other arguments. Agnipath will be inducting 46,000 Agniveers over the next 18 months for a compulsory term of four years. In the end, 11,500 (25%) of them will be inducted into an appropriate segment of the military. The remaining 75% (34,500) will be discharged.
Agniveers will be paid a lump sum of ₹11.5 lakh after the completion of the four years of service and will receive no pensionary benefits or gratuity. Pensions in the new scheme are unlike the previous system. The starting salary would be ₹30,000 per month, which by the end of four years will reach ₹40,000 per month after taking into account yearly increments and other monetary benefits. The discharge corpus, however, would be partly self-funded via deductions of 30 percent from the monthly salary. To this, the government will add a matching share on which interest will be added.
Earlier, the troops joined for a 17-year period, which could be extended for some personnel. This resulted in a lifelong pension. Some veterans pointed out that the announcements made by a few private companies to recruit Agniveers leaving the service after four years seems to have enhanced the appeal of the scheme. They also pointed out that the majority of the ‘other ranks’ in the armed forces come from families that are primarily engaged in agriculture in which they earn only a fraction of what the parting package the Agniveers would receive.
The arguments in favour of the scheme say that that scheme will make the profile of the armed forces younger and fitter by reducing the average age from existing 32 to 24 to 26 in six to seven years and will help to induct tech-savvy youngsters for future warfare and ensure nation-building through disciplined youth with military ethos in civil society. The most compelling argument put forward by those who have been batting for the Agnipath Scheme is that it would help to slash the ballooning salary and pension bills and will leave more money for military modernisation with an infusion of cutting-edge technologies. Veterans also say that a similar system exists in a number of countries and is considered a best practice for an agile army.
The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist, who has reported and written on a wide range of subjects in an extensive career.