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Agnipath Scheme: Agniveers and Protesters

The Government of India on June 14 2022 had made an announcement of the new scheme “Agnipath” for the recruitment of personnel below the rank of commissioned officers in all three wings of armed forces, the Army, Navy and the Air Force which was a departure from the existing recruitment policies in the armed forces. 

The scheme will henceforth guide all the recruitment of soldiers, sailors and airmen between the age group of 17.5 to 21 years and will serve in the forces for just four years including six months of training after being recruited. Earlier the recruits were required to serve at least seventeen years before they retired from the service. The army recruited through this scheme will be known as “Agniveers”. 

The scheme was presented by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, along with the chiefs of all three-armed forces, shortly after it received the green signal by the cabinet committee on security the same day. Minster Singh in his media briefing was in praise of the scheme and had said that the scheme would bring “transformative changes” in the armed forces as it would make the armed forces “modern” and “well equipped”.

For many years there were demands for numerous reforms in the armed forces of the country mainly in the average age in the forces. The current average age in the armed forces stands at thirty-two which is not considered a very young age. Several high-level committees formed in the past also had advocated for a much youthful cadre which could deal with India’s various security threats. The new recruitment scheme is now thought to bring the average age of the armed forces down to twenty-four – twenty-six. 

Though the new scheme will follow the same recruitment process as was followed in the earlier recruitment rallies, many radical changes have been made after the recruitment. The most significant change made is in the tenure of the service. Earlier the recruits were required to serve at least seventeen years in service but through this scheme they will be required to serve only for four years. Although one can apply for a regular cadre after the completion of four years in service, only 25% will be re-recruited in the armed forces while the rest 75% will be sent back to the society. 

The scheme has also provided many financial packages for the Agniveers which includes a salary of INR 30,000 per month in the first year, INR 33,000 in the second year, INR36,500 in the third and INR 40,000 per month in the fourth year. The Agniveers will also be entitled to receive a Sewa Nidhi package of non-taxable INR 11.71 lakh which will be a part of 30% contribution from the salary and the matching amount of the contribution from the Government. Apart from the salary, the Agniveers will also be entitled with the life insurance cover of INR 48 lakhs for the duration of their engagement within the forces along with all the benefits provided to the armed forces and their kin. 

However, there have been reports of numerous violent protests across the country against the Agnipath scheme launched by the government where the first recruitment rally is scheduled to be held ninety days after the scheme is launched. There has been a growing demand to make certain changes in the scheme which included the age limit for the recruitment. Owing to COVID-19 the government had halted the recruitment process for two years which resulted in many crossing the age bar of 21. However, the government was compelled to provide relaxation in the age limit for 2022 recruits only from 21 to 23 years. 

Many other demands have been raised by the protesters, which mostly included the youths aspiring to get into the armed forces, such as provisions for pensions, increase in service tenure to at-least fifteen years and employment security after retirement. The Government has promised to give priority to the Engineers in the Central Armed Police Forces, State Police Forces, Assam Rifles cadres, etc., however how much reservation will be made is not clear. 

Many have been demanding to roll back the scheme altogether however after the army released its schedule for the recruitment rallies it does not seem that government would be willing to roll back the scheme instead the army has directed the applicants to provide undertakings of them being not involved in the violent protests. 

Sikkim’s Chief Minister, Prem Singh Tamang, on being asked about the Agnipath scheme said “This scheme would provide employment opportunities for the unemployed youth of the country and an opportunity to serve the nation”

“The state government will give priority to the Agniveers in the employment within the state after the retirement of the Agniveers” added the Chief Minister. 

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