June 16, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the newly launched Agnipath scheme will improve India’s military readiness. We also look at the gaming regulation bill in Rajasthan, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Agnipath Scheme – Will it improve India’s military readiness?
One of the fallouts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a sort of diplomatic coalition forming in Europe. The European Union’s importance has been validated and reiterated. On the ground, the Russian military’s hopes of a swift operation haven’t happened. The Ukrainian forces are putting up a brave and sustained fight. On the other hand, questions have been raised about Russia’s military capabilities. Are there lessons for India?
The government seems to be looking into it. While the Chief of Defence Staff issue continues, the government is now looking at India’s on-the-ground military readiness. In this regard, it has introduced the Agnipath scheme for recruiting and training soldiers. As the government touts this radical shift, some experts and veterans have concerns.
In 2020, the idea was floated to recruit jawans on a three-year contract basis, called the Tour of Duty (ToD) scheme. The brainchild of the late General Bipin Rawat, it was proposed to open recruitment to civilians, including young working professionals. Army officials wanted people to get closer to the existing forces and experience military life.
At the time, the spokesperson of the Army Colonel Aman Anand said that it would be a voluntary engagement with no dilution in the selection criteria. The standard policy is recruiting young people under the short service commission for an initial term of 10 years, extendable to 14. Under the ToD scheme, those recruited would have been eligible to be deployed in forward locations with no restrictions on their roles.
There was a financial component. Initial calculation showed benefits. The cumulative approximate cost of pre-commission training, salary, and other expenses are nearly ₹5.12 crores and ₹6.83 crores for an officer released after 10 and 14 years, respectively. Under the ToD, it would be between ₹80-85 lakh each.
Per the Agnipath scheme, this idea will be limited to jawans and not extended to the officer level due to the Short Service Commission. The Commission was limited to officers of cadre. It began during World War II when the British realised they needed more officers. They came on board on a 5–10-year contract basis. In 1962, the Commission was reopened due to increased requirements during the Indo-China war.
Here’s how the Agnipath scheme will work. The army will recruit 45-50,000 soldiers annually. Most of them will leave in just four years. About 25% of the total recruits will continue for another 15 years under the permanent commission. The recruitment standards will be the same, and the process will happen twice a year.
At the end of the four years, each soldier will get about ₹11.71 lakh as a tax-free lump sum amount. They’ll also get ₹48 lakh life insurance cover for four years. One aspect of the scheme is that during the period a soldier serves, 30% of their salary will be set aside for a Seva Nidhi programme. The government will also contribute an equal amount each month with accrued interest.
With all these in mind, the question is whether the Agnipath scheme will help the Indian Army or fundamentally undermine it.
VIEW: It’ll improve military operations and readiness
For an army to be battle-ready, it needs an effective workforce. Currently, the average of the forces is 32. If the scheme is implemented, that number will go down to 26 in six to seven years. As Lt Gen Anil Puri, additional secretary, Department of Military Affairs, put it, it will create “future-ready” soldiers. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the profile of the Indian Army should be as youthful as the Indian population.
Then comes increasing employment. While it may seem strange to link army recruitment with employment opportunities, it’s what the government is envisioning. Once the officers leave after their four-year contract ends, they can use the skills earned to get employment in various fields. As current affairs commentator Sandip Ghose stated, the Agnipath scheme is ultimately about capacity creation for India.
With respect to finances, one of the challenges of the Indian Army today is budgetary constraints. While the Modi government has spared no expense in providing them with weapons and equipment, the ballooning salary and pension bills have put a strain on the availability of funds for modernisation.
For several decades, pensions were about a fifth of the defence budget. That has increased in recent years. For 2022-23, service pensions accounted for ₹1.19 lakh crores of the budget of ₹5.25 lakh crores. Modernisation is needed in the Indian armed forces, especially given China’s focus on it for its People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
COUNTERVIEW: Danger of undercutting military readiness
One of the aspects causing concern is the training period and deployment for a limited timeframe. While an effective workforce is needed, experience counts for a lot. India has to have a well-trained army to counter threats from Pakistan and China. The six-month training course is inadequate compared to the 2-3 years it takes to train jawans. Lieutenant General (retired) Harwant Singh criticised the plan asking whether the short-term recruits would be motivated.
On the financial aspect, critics argue the scheme wouldn’t make much difference. Even if the benefits would kick in a decade from now, that’s a long time for things to change and completely transform. Military Affairs are constantly evolving, and this has to be accounted for. Also, the prospect of about 35,000 people with military training leaving the forces at the end of their tenure has raised some concerns about the militarization of our society.
And how would one judge which 25% to recall and which 75% to be sent back? The concept of four years is too short to take such a call. The people sent out into the real world won’t have any specialised training. They might find it difficult to upskill themselves. The policy could become a failure from the human resource perspective. The army hasn’t been able to upskill and provide second employment opportunities.
Overall, the Agnipath scheme seems to be a cost-cutting measure. The pipeline for preparing soldiers with specialisations can’t be cut short. A longer pipeline ticking over shouldn’t be disrupted every 4 years, which seems like an arbitrary number.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Agnipath scheme is the right approach for improving India’s military readiness.
b) The Agnipath scheme is the wrong approach for improving India’s military readiness.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
India & Hindu Nationalism: What Is The Economic Cost Of Marginalising Muslims?
For the Left:
My Secular Critics’ Reaction To Arab Outrage Chooses Short-Term Relief Over Long-Term Damage
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Ban on schools (Jammu & Kashmir) – The J&K administration banned more than 300 educational institutions run by the Falah-e-Aam Trust (FAT), an affiliate of the banned Jamaat-e-Islami. The school education secretary BK Singh passed an order directing the cessation of educational activities of FAT-affiliated institutions. The students at these schools will be admitted to nearby government schools for the current academic season.
Why it matters: The Jamaat-e-Islami was banned in 2019. It was imposed after a special investigation agency (SIA) allegedly found evidence of these institutions radicalising youngsters to become secessionists. More than one lakh students will be affected due to the ban. The organisation will be banned from registering institutions in the state.
Public spaces accessibility (Tamil Nadu) – It has been five years since the Rights to Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act was passed. To mark the occasion, a group of disability rights activists called for greater accessibility at the newly inaugurated Central Square. Even with electric wheelchairs providing independent mobility, public places still haven’t caught up. One activist said there isn’t a ramp from the road to the pavement, and the railings are put up on a ramp that exits into a busy intersection.
Why it matters: Per the guidelines of the Central Public Works Department, there must be a three-feet width for wheelchairs, colour contrasting to distinguish steps, tactile flooring, and non-slip surfaces. At Central Square, these facilities are missing. An official from the Chennai Metro Rail said repair work has been taken up as they’ve received complaints about the ramp.
Second airport (Jharkhand) – The state will inaugurate a new commercial airport at Deoghar in the second week of July. It will be the second airport in the state after Ranchi. The inspections will take place next week. The airport will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On June 7, a trial run of an IndiGo flight was conducted. In the beginning, there’ll be flights from Deoghar to Delhi, Bombay, and Bangalore.
Why it matters: Deoghar is a strategic location for the airport. It can provide connectivity to people from Dumka, Gonda, Banka, and neighbouring Bihar. Also, Deoghar is one of the most visited religious towns in India. It has contributed to pilgrimage tourism and has domestic air travel potential.
Gaming regulation bill (Rajasthan) – Rajasthan released its draft gaming bill to regulate virtual online sports within the state. It includes esports competitions and fantasy sports. It outlines the regulatory framework, including licensing of formats, forming a self-regulation organisation, and a gaming commission. The bill doesn’t cover skill games like rummy and poker. The draft paves the way for a Rajasthan Virtual Online Sports Commission (RVOSC) consisting of a retired judge, a person with experience in the field, and a retired government servant.
Why it matters: Gaming in India has grown exponentially over the past few years. However, there has also been regulatory uncertainty. Other states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and some northeastern states have outlined similar regulations for gaming. Some concerns remain about clubbing esports with fantasy sports as it would curb the growth of the former. NASSCOM has called for a uniform central framework.
Utilising the Feni River (Tripura) – Delegations from India and Bangladesh visited a site to finalise the construction of an intake well to utilise water from the Feni River. The design for the well was given to the Bangladeshi delegation for approval. On their side, Bangladesh raised concerns about the pending river bank protection work. Previously, the two delegations inspected drinking water and irrigation projects along the river.
Why it matters: In 2019, the Union cabinet approved an MoU between India and Bangladesh on the withdrawal of 1.82 cusecs of water from the river by India for a drinking water supply scheme. There has been a long-standing dispute between the two countries over water sharing. Another important project on the river is the 1.9-km-long bridge to link the two countries.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹48,390 crores – The amount the BCCI received for the IPL media rights. Disney, Viacom-18, and Times Internet secured various broadcasting rights in the e-auction.