Introduced in June 2022 by the Government of India, the Agnipath scheme is a process for recruiting defence personnel below the rank of commissioned officers in the Indian Armed Forces. The selected candidates, also known as ‘Agniveers’, will be enrolled for four years in the Indian Armed Forces (Army, Air Force and Navy).
The Government of India aims to recruit 46,000 Agniveers in 2022 through this scheme.
What Does the Scheme Bring to the Table?
The Agnipath scheme aims to bypass long tenures, pensions, and other benefits in the old system to deal with the burgeoning defence budget. In the preceding decade, the Ministry of Defence’s budget grew at an average rate of 8.6% per year, whereas the total government expenditure grew at 10.8%. Spending on defence pensions has grown at an average yearly rate of 10.7% between 2012–13 and 2022–23. The proportion of pension in the defence budget surged from 19% in FY13 to 26% in FY20. Thereafter, it reduced to 23% in FY22 and FY23. During the FY23 budget, the defence pension expenditure is estimated to be Rs. 1,19,696 crore (US$ 14.98 billion), 2% more than the revised guidance of Rs. 1,16,878 crore (US$ 14.63 billion) in 2021–22.
India’s Defence Budget Allocation (US$ Billion)
Source: PRS Legislative Research
Under the former method, young men aged 16.5–21 were recruited for a minimum of 15 years and were eligible for pension after retirement. The Agnipath scheme provides an opportunity to young men and women aged 17.5–21 to serve India as Agniveers. The selected candidates will be initially enrolled for a period of four years and will be eligible for a ‘Seva Nidhi’ package. The enrolment will occur via a centralised online system with specialised events and campus recruitments from recognised institutes such as Industrial Training Institutes and National Skills Qualifications Framework. Based on merit and requirement of the Indian Armed Forces, up to 25% of Agniveers will be selected as regular cadres after the initial four-year tenure.
Agniveers will receive approximately Rs. 4.76 lakh (US$ 5,957) in the first year, gradually upgrading to around Rs. 6.92 lakh (US$ 8,661) in the fourth year. After these four years, Agniveers can reap the benefits of the Seva Nidhi package, which includes a) 30% of monthly emoluments to be contributed by the individual, b) an equal amount contributed by the government and c) a lump sum amount of circa Rs. 11.71 lakh (US$ 14,656), exempted from Income Tax. The total financial package includes Risk & Hardship, Ration, Dress, and Travel allowances, and a death compensation with a non-contributory life protection cover of Rs. 48 lakh (approx. US$ 60,000). Despite the various controversies, the scheme does not aim to alter the present selection pattern for the Indian Armed Forces. It rather focuses on tweaking the current Terms and Conditions of the service.
The Indian government has introduced the Agnipath scheme after analysing in depth the recruitment procedures of various nations.
India vs Rest of the World
The Government of India thoroughly examined the recruitment procedures and the pros and cons of processes of countries such as the US, Russia, Israel, China, France, the UK and Germany to develop an effective recruitment process for the Indian Armed Forces. Countries such as Russia, Israel and China have compulsory military service, after which the conscripts can volunteer for an extension. Many nations have multiple enrolment models, effective at different stages of defence careers, allowing soldiers to continue or leave the service.
India seems to have absorbed the best practices from different models while considering the diverse needs of its demographics. Blessed with a young demographic profile, India can upskill a larger chunk, giving it an advantage over other nations. India has the second highest number of active military personnel, at around 1.45 million. The Agnipath scheme will open different avenues for the Indian youth to emerge as well-qualified, polished professionals prepared to deploy their skills in various fields.
Countries with the Highest Active-Duty Military Personnel
Source: World Population Review
The scheme has received support from various organisations and ministries since its launch in June 2022.
A New Wave of Enthusiasm
The Ministry of Education welcomed the Agnipath scheme to recruit young men and women into the defence forces. To support this move, the Department of School Education & Literacy is instituting a special programme via the National Institute of Open Schooling, in consultation with the defence authorities, to allow Agniveers who have cleared the 10th standard to obtain a 12th standard certificate. This certificate shall be recognised for employment and higher education purposes in India.
Skill India and the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship were among the first to be associated with the scheme. They aim to work closely with the Indian Armed Forces in implementing the programme.
Besides the educational push, the scheme provides Agniveers with adequate re-employment opportunities in the CAPF, the Indian Police force, and Assam Rifles, where they will be prioritised, if they opt for these career options. Core sectors such as IT and engineering will also give priority to Agniveers. Moreover, financial institutions (FIs), public sector banks (PSBs), and public sector insurance companies (PSICs) will provide employment opportunities for Agniveers based on their qualifications through suitable benefits.
Following the implementation of the Agnipath scheme, Lieutenant General Mr. Arvind Walia, the Chief of Staff (HQ Southern Command), stated that the scheme is a transformational reform for the Indian Army and the nation. He also remarked that the scheme aims to bring exemplary amendments to the human resource management of the Indian Army. He highlighted that the concept of this scheme envisages the promotion of nationalism among the youth while offering skilled manpower to the society and ensuring a more youthful profile of the Army. He also stated that this move will bring about a transformational change towards a technically savvy Defence Forces which is the need of the hour for India. He expects the scheme to ensure a good balance between young and experienced personnel in the Indian Armed Forces.