Rajat Sharma

Preparing for a modern day Army, Navy and Air Force

AKBToday a piece of good news, particularly for those youths who want to join the armed forces and serve our motherland. Very soon, nearly 1.25 lakh youths will be recruited in the army, navy and air force. A new recruitment policy called Tour of Duty, or Agnipath in Hindi, is on the anvil. Under this policy, recruitment policy and retirement conditions will now be changed, to fill up nearly 1.25 lakh posts vacant in our armed forces.

The new policy ‘Tour of Duty’ stipulates that a soldier recruited in the armed forces will not have to serve for 20 years, before retirement. In the new policy, Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBOR) will be inducted for short service for a period of four years, which will include six months of training.

Soldiers recruited under Tour of Duty, will be compulsorily retired from service after four years, though the new system has a provision of retaining 25 per cent of soldiers after another round of screening. After four years of service, these soldiers named ‘Agniveer’ may be given a severance package of nearly Rs 10 lakhs, but they will not be entitled for pension. Soldiers who will be retained will serve for another 15 years, and they will get all retirement benefits.

The new policy was on the anvil for the last three years. The ideation came from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who wanted that most of our youths must get an opportunity to serve in the armed forces. They must be given opportunities, but the problem is that the entire strength of the armed forces, including officers and jawans, could go up to 12 lakhs. A jawan, once recruited, serves for 20 years, before they retire in their late 30s with a pension. So, for 20 years, these posts cannot become vacant. The new formula envisages a short service of four years. This would mean nearly one lakh youths will get jobs in the armed forces every year. Youths from all classes and communities will get a chance, once they pass the exam and physical tests. Presently, formations like Rajputana Rifles, Sikh Regiment, Gorkha Regiment, Mahar Regiment do not recruit youths from other castes or communities. The new policy will amalgamate all. Wherever vacancies are to be filled up, ‘Agniveers’ will be recruit to fill the gaps.

The minimum age limit for hiring will be 17 years six months and maximum age limit will be 21 years. In other words, youths between the age of seventeen and a half years to 21 years can apply. Those selected will undergo six months training, and will then be transferred to their regiments or units, where they will serve for nearly three and a half years. After completion of four years, 75 per cent of the jawans will be compulsorily retired, while remaining 25 per cent will be recruited again after a gap of one month, through exams. The aim behind this policy is to fill up the vacancies that have accrued for the last two years due to a freeze on recruitments due to Covid pandemic. When the recruits will leave the job after four years, the size of the armed forces will not suffer a big reduction. The army machine will become lean and thin, ready for modern warfare. Some experts believe that our armed forces need to become agile, and ready for battles in the 21st century. ‘Agnipath’ can help achieve these aims.

A soldier hired under Tour of Duty policy will get Rs 30-40,000 gross per month, out of which 70 per cent will be paid as salary every month, while remaining 30 per cent will remain deposited in Sewa Nidhi account. Government will contribute similar amount in that fund. In plain words, every month a new jawan will get Rs 28,000 as salary, while Rs 12,000 will be deposited in Sewa Nidhi account with matching amount of Rs 12,000 from the government. After four years, when the jawans will retire, they will get Rs 10 to 12 lakhs from this fund. This will be tax free. During service, the soldier will get a life cover of Rs 48 lakhs, which will be given to the martyr’s family, if he dies while fighting in service. Defence experts describe this as a revolutionary step. It will bring about a fundamental transformation in the army, navy and air force. Several hoary traditions that had continued since the British Raj will now change.

Former Army Chief Gen M M Narwane had hinted about this Tour of Duty policy two years ago. He used to say that whenever any senior army officer visited any college or institute, the main question from young students used to be: How is life in the army? Some youths did not want to spend their entire life in the army. The new policy will try to fulfil the ambitions of such youths, who can serve the armed forces for four years and then return to civilian life.

Questions are being raised about what will happen to the youths after they retire from service after four years. Under the Agnipath policy, such youths will get a Diploma along with credit score points. If they want to pursue higher education, this will help them, and if they want to seek new jobs, Ministry of Skill Development will impart new skills to them. These jawans, after retirement, can also serve the state police or central paramilitary forces. The corporate sector has also shown much interest in the Tour of Duty policy, since they require youths who are trained in the army.

This new policy will bring about huge savings to the public exchequer, and will work towards modernization of the armed forces, through purchase of new weapons. In 2021, nearly 60 per cent of the armed forces’ defence budget was spent on salaries and pensions, leaving few scope for purchase of new and modernized weapons. At present, the government spends more than Rs 5 crore on a jawan who works for ten years in the army, Rs 6.25 crore on those who work for 14 years. Under the new policy, the Centre will spend Rs 80-85 lakhs on a jawan who works for four years. Nearly Rs 11,000 crore can be saved under the Tour of Duty policy.

China spends nearly 30 per cent of its defence budget on salaries and pensions, while remaining 70 per cent is spent on acquiring new weapons for the Chinese army. ‘Agnipath’ policy is a step towards this direction. There are defence experts who are against this new policy. Some political parties have also raised their voices. Lt. Gen. (Retd) Vinod Bhatia, former DGMO (Director General of Military Operations) says, the new policy can weaken the two centuries-old traditions of the army regiments ‘Naam, Namak, Nishaan’ (Name, Loyalty, Symbol).

Asks Lt. Gen. (Retd) Harwant Singh, “Will these four-year tenure types have the essential motivation and willingness to lay down their lives when the call is made, while being aware that they are there for just four years? Will they imbibe that regimental spirit and unit’s battle cry which makes them carry on through a hail of bullets?” Another Maj. Gen. (Retd) Sanjay Meston said, this will lead to politicization of the armed forces, because leaders may try to push in their candidates at the time of hiring. These leaders may also intervene to retain the remaining 25 per cent.

There are two ways to look at a plan: positive and negative. The government is yet to announce its new policy, though it has been almost finalized. The Centre may make changes at the last moment, but I personally feel that this is Prime Minister Modi’s revolutionary idea. It is true that a huge amount of money in the defence budget can be saved as a result, and the government can save itself from mounting pension dues. The money saved by reducing pension dues will be used to acquire new weapons and machines to make our armed forces stronger. There should be no objections on this score.

Secondly, the new policy will open up huge avenues for millions of our youths yearning to join the armed forces. They will get training in the army during their four years of stay. When these youths return to civil society, they will return as disciplined citizens. Since they have been trained in the armed forces, they can easily be given jobs in the police and paramilitary forces. In 85 countries of the world, including Russia, Israel, Turkey, South Korea and Brazil, army service is compulsory for every youth.

Prime Minister Modi has not made it compulsory, but he has provided a golden opportunity to millions of youths to join the army. This policy will be beneficial for our country and our armed forces. It will also be beneficial for our youths. This policy ‘Tour of Duty’, ‘Agnipath’ must be welcomed.

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