Arun Prakash writes: Agnipath, between the lines

News: Recently, the government of India introduced a new recruitment scheme for the armed forces, Agnipath.

How do other nations solve their challenges with armed forces?

All major nations undertake a periodic (every 4-5 years) review of their evolving national security objectives, the options available, and the economic/military means available for achieving them. For example, China releases a biennial “Defence White Paper” since 2002.

These reviews generate assessments of existing/potential adversary threats to national interests, as well as the state of the own military’s material/operational readiness.

Apart from providing fiscal guidance, this process also facilitates the evolution of a national security strategy.

What is the main challenge faced by the Indian armed forces?

The current profile of defence spending is counterproductive. The capital outlay expenditure (including the spending on modernisation) has declined as a proportion of the defence budget, from 32% in 2010-11 to 28% in 2020-21.

Spending on pensions increased considerably after the introduction of One Rank One Pension (OROP).

Between 2011-12 and 2020-21, while the total defence expenditure increased at a nominal annual rate of 9.5%, the pension expenditure increased 14% year-on-year, and capital outlay spending rose only 8.4%.

In 2019-20 the defence pension expenditure exceeded capital outlay expenditure.

Must read: Agnipath Scheme: Need, Benefits and Challenges – Explained, pointwise
What is the reason for the challenges faced by armed forces?

Firstly, Independent India’s defence expenditure got relegated to the “non-plan” category. The pension bill for veteran soldiers was linked to the defence budget. This increased the defence expenditure on pensions.

Secondly, the Finance Ministry did not find ways and means for raising essential additional funds for national defence. Instead, they demanded armed forces to evolve measures for reducing the pension bill.

Thirdly, the government of India has neglected to undertake any periodic assessment, in the past 75 years. For instance, India is among the few major powers which have failed to issue a National Security Strategy or Doctrine.

Fourthly, Half-hearted attempts at organisational reform made the Indian army to remain with “boots-on-the-ground” syndrome and not prepared them for “hybrid warfare”. For instance, the Ukraine conflict has highlighted the disadvantages of poor military organisation.

Read more: Education Ministry to recognize in-service training received by Agniveers as credits for graduation
What are the challenges associated with the Agnipath Scheme?

Not the right time: Armed forces are already short of manpower and the Country’s northern and western borders are already facing turbulence. Hence, this is not the best time to implement a radical and untried new recruitment system.

Focus only on the army: Army’s large infantry component is not excessively burdened with technology. So, the Agnipath scheme is best suited only for the army. On the other hand, the Navy and Air force have sophisticated lethal weapon systems, complex machinery and electronics. So, they require at least 5-6 years for a new entrant to acquire enough hands-on experience to operate them.

Forget to consider the present ex-servicemen issues: Home Ministry has resisted the induction of ex-servicemen into the armed police and paramilitary forces on the ground that it would spoil the career path of their own cadres. Similarly, state governments and other agencies have also ignored reservations.

Pension savings will happen only after 15 years: Agniveers recruited today are replacing soldiers who would have retired approximately 15 years from now. The purported pension savings would start accruing only after a decade and a half.

Creates intergenerational injustice: The OROP scheme provides a uniform pension but increased the government’s pension bill. But the Agnipath scheme does not provide any pension at all. This creates an intergenerational injustice to those who join the army under the new scheme.

What should be done to improve the Agnipath scheme?

The government must a) Compensate for the reduction of opportunities in the military by increasing the public employment, b) Ensure “Minimum government, maximum governance” across defence sectors.

Must read: How can Agnipath be made more attractive? Recommendations from 2 former army leaders

Source: This post is based on the following articles

“Arun Prakash writes: Agnipath, between the lines” published in the Indian Express on 21st June 22.

“The Rs 34,500 Crore Argument” published in The Times of India on 21st June 22.

“Avoid sudden changes” published in Business Standard on 20th June 22.

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