“Jawans on contract” could prove ruinous for armed forces


The Government should put Agnipath scheme on hold and continue with the old recruitment system till such time it succeeds in allaying all the fears and apprehensions of the youth who are visibly upset with the new recruitment method of our armed forces, writes former IAS officer V.S.Pandey


There are  two current buzzwords dominating the discourse these days-“Agnipath” and “ Agniveer”. It took  a  little time to realize that these are not the names of new blockbusters, awaiting imminent release –  but the names of   new recruitment programmes  for the armed forces. Since the day this new scheme was announced by the Defense minister, in the presence of the three chiefs of the forces, it became clear that there was something more than the optics. All the three arms of our defense forces have been in the business of recruiting people to serve in the respective domains,  from times immemorial. The  Indian defense forces have been rated by experts  as being foremost  amongst the most professional and courageous forces across the globe. In the constantly changing defense scenario, armed forces also need to remain, if not ahead of others, at least up to the task to defend our borders. Accordingly, new methods and processes of recruitment are the need of the hour. For this the nation must have utmost clarity about   its aspirations, where it wants to reach and by which route. We also have the knowledge and understanding of how other powerful countries are managing their forces, so we can easily assimilate the good practices from elsewhere.


      The spontaneous eruption of the anger of youth, after the announcement of the new recruitment scheme does indicate that some serious issues need to be answered by the government before it decides to move on this Agni path. The government side did give a few arguments in support of the new recruitment process like making the armed forces younger, downsizing the burgeoning pension budget and making greater budgetary provisions for modernization of our forces which could not be done earlier due to scarcity of resources. It was also mentioned by the government that the “Kargil Committee report” had recommended the lowering of average age of our forces.


The most fierce opposition to the Agnipath scheme is on one point- that henceforth recruitment will be done for a fixed  term of four years on a lump sum payment basis. The sheer idea of having regular jawans fighting alongside an “agniveer” recruited on contract for four years , seems absurd. A similar experiment was made, with devastating results, in the field of education when semi skilled “Shiksha mitras” were appointed to teach students in government run schools on a lump sum basis  along side regular teachers. This kind of arrangement played havoc with the educational standards in our government run institutions. To even think of having a fighting force consisting of people on contract, is beyond the common man’s imagination. It is not a question whether similar systems are in vogue in other countries or not or whether employment opportunities for youth will be reduced or not, it is the question of defending our country’s integrity and sovereignty at all costs , come what may. Should any government be allowed to compromise this aspect on any pretext whatsoever? Answer has to be a resounding No.


How can any government even cite  a shortage of resources or  the pretext of lowering the average age of the force to announce a system of “jawans on theka”? There are several other ways to bring down the average age of our fighting forces .It is the responsibility of the government to assess the security scenario  and accordingly decide  the size of the army , navy and air force  and in consonance decide the type of weaponry, modern equipment , fighting machines, tanks, fighter jets etc.  needed to defend the country and act accordingly. Boosting the morale of our forces is also one of the primary responsibilities of the government. But  citing a  shortage of funds for paying the future pension bills concerning our armed forces and consequently announcing schemes like agnipath etc. undermine  not only the morale of our  armed forces,  but also  our entire country.

For the past few days serious concerns have been expressed by many who have been part of our armed forces and have served the nation with flying colors . The government must heed these saner voices   and should not commit the same mistake as it did with the three farm laws. Doing away with the current recruitment process in the three wings of our forces, which cannot be faulted  and which had served our nation gloriously all these years, has caused massive unrest amongst the youth of our country and resulted in widespread violence in several states. Undoubtedly, violence has no place in a democratic country like ours governed by the “rule of law .“ All those who indulged in violent activities need to be brought to book. However, the government will ignore the spontaneous outburst of opposition to the agnipath scheme only at its own peril. The concerns expressed by the youth  regarding what they will do after retiring at a very early age , deserves serious consideration and empathy. The Government should also not be gullible about various offers made by private companies and businesses regarding reemployment of the future agniveers . They have failed to  create enough jobs during the past several years neither  do they have the  requisite capacity to provide jobs to absorb the large number of unemployed . In the quest to assuage the hurt feelings of the job aspirants, government should also refrain from  making announcements to provide jobs in its various organs as it will have serious legal, social and practical repercussions .


The Government will lose nothing if it puts on hold the implementation of the new recruitment system named Agniath and continue with the old recruitment system till such time it succeeds in allaying all the fears and apprehensions of the youth who are visibly upset with the new recruitment method of our armed forces. The numerous  amendments carried out by the government in the scheme immediately post announcement and the proclamations made by several ministries reserving quotas for future agniveers shows that the scheme needs a serious relook before its rollout. The  sooner the government acts to stall  agnipath ,the  better it will be for its future and ours.


(Vijay Shankar Pandey is former Secretary Government of India)

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