India's controversial Agniveer scheme: Need for pragmatic view with future of armed forces in mind

There is always resistance to any change and in a democracy with free media and freedom of expression, varied views on all matters are only to be expected and welcome. In this fast-developing world, an army can’t be static - or traditional - and frozen in an era of the past.

Agniveer scheme

There are three major implications, economic, societal/political, defense, in changing over defense recruitment to the Agniveer scheme introduced for the Indian armed forces. Much has been written on the process. But that may not have been necessary if implications are grasped quickly.

Firstly, there is no doubt that the Agniveer scheme has been designed more for economic reasons, than any other, namely to reduce the pension bill of the Armed Forces. Any other benefit can only be incidental. With persons living longer and the demographic ratio moving more towards the elderly in a few decades from now, the expenditure on pensions to the ex-servicemen is only going to increase exponentially. The government has already moved future pension expenditure for government employees other than from defense, from the sovereign fund through the compulsory National Pension Service (NPS) scheme, starting this year – for those who join the service on or after 01 Jan 2024. NPS is a self-servicing pension scheme.


Secondly, there are societal and / or political implications. Usually in India for more than a century, at least one from a family, especially from the northern states, joined the armed forces. There was a steady income in the family from these soldiers and a lifelong pension with other benefits for life, even after retirement. These “families” were in a comfort zone. The agniveer scheme upset the status quo as it does not match with their scheme of leading a life on a well-trodden path. This, naturally, brought in societal dissatisfaction leading to restlessness and unrest. As usual in a democracy politics drove a wedge into this crack.

Is it possible to see this Agnipath scheme as a good deal for the youth?  Indications are positive. With the Agniveers “retiring” at 21 to 24 years young,  with about Rs 10-15 Lakhs at the least (total emoluments including severance allowances minus possible expenses which is a variable), exposure to different geographies and demographics, inculcated self discipline, on the job skill sets, a 12th pass award at least and possible  avenues for further employment in the military (25 per cent), para military, state  cadres and corporate is not bad for youth who otherwise may have been  struggling or even languishing without an identity, to pursue further studies or (re)start a career.  

While in service he/she gets whatever the regular soldier gets. Good for the youth? You take a call.

Filling manpower shortages

Oh yes, for such a scheme to succeed and not adversely affect the fighting capabilities of the armed forces, there will be much more to be done by the military, in the areas of people development, physical training, technical training, induction, on job training in the initial days, allocation of duties in the units et al. As it is at any time in an army unit there have always been and are many serving soldiers under five years’ service alongside others. There is no reason why the Agniveers with less than five years should be any different from them as to pose new problems.

The Indian armed forces have been for years working with major deficiencies in manpower. The armed forces are facing a deficiency of around 1.55 lakh personnel with the Army accounting for the maximum 1.36 lakh vacancies, the Rajya Sabha was informed on March 26, 2023. In a written reply, Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt then said the shortage of armed forces personnel and mitigating measures are reviewed regularly and numerous measures have been initiated to fill the vacancies and encourage youth to join the services. 

With the priority of deployments shifting to LAC (Line of Actual Control with China) and expanded responsibilities in the Indo-Pacific, there is an urgent requirement to fill the deficiencies and maybe even increase the manpower forthwith. There are no valid reasons to doubt that Agniveers can blend into the system with a bit of tweaking – like extending the training period to 9-11 months and extending the colour service to 5-6 years. While cutting out crap, time can always be found in the units to train our soldiers, as is done now, including agniveers.

The indignant blaring in the media on this matter should be avoided. Enough has been said by all and sundry to “help” the authorities. Else this will only help complete the total politicization of the matter.

Avoid shooting from hip

There is always resistance to any change and in a democracy with free media and freedom of expression, varied views on all matters are only to be expected and welcome. In this fast-developing world, an army can’t be static - or traditional - and frozen in an era of the past. A couple of decades back there were no electronic shooting ranges, interactive training equipment or efficient simulators and such, which cut down drastically on the time for training. Past is not the present nor will it be the future. The nation, including the armed forces, need to take a pragmatic view of developments and not start shooting from the hip without assessing the target.

(The author is an Indian Army veteran and a contemporary affairs commentator. Views are personal. He can be reached at )

Post a Comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.