By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)
Having analysed the Agnipath scheme from many angles – operational, financial, social and practicalities at the unit/subunit level, it is clear that it is required in the long run. However in the current form it is too rigid and harsh to both – the system and the individual. It needs to be made promising and rewarding for all concerned. Discussions in public and private forums with those who could view it professionally reinforces this fact. A recent article @ https://forceindia.net/feature-report/back-drawing-board/ by an infantry veteran who has also evolved his model and dwelt on issues in an infantry battalion, echoes my figures and comes to identical conclusions. Some of the major issues which have emerged are as follows.
The prime motive of this transformation – cutting of ballooning manpower to enable due funding of modernisation is based on a fault line. Savings in pension pay-out due to the Agnipath Scheme will actually come into effect only after 15-20 years. Till then, the relationship between pensions and modernisation is on a ‘stand still’status quo mode. There has been no manpower induction into the Armed Forces for three years due to Covid. The Government has already saved on pay of 2.25 lakhs personnel for the past three years. Further it appears from media reports and statements of senior officers that this strength is unlikely to be made up and is of a permanent nature. Hence the financial savings is also permanent. It means a lot of savings in pay and allowances. Taking into consideration all other financial issues highlighted @ https://www.gunnersshot.com/2022/07/agnipath-breaking-accountants-ambush.html there is no doubt that Agniveers can be kept longer in service and exit patterns softened. India can afford it. Incidentally, this analysis from hereon is for the Army only.
It is also widely felt that the four year tenure of Agniveer is too short. It does not meet either organisational or individual requirement. The period of initial training of 6 months is too less to train an effective soldier in modern combat with hi-tech weapons. Further after having trained him, loss of experience is too fast. A major factor which has emerged due to non-recruitment over a three Covid period, there will be no one available in a particular service bracket (progressively) till that block is deemed to have bubbled out from service. Hence for the next seventeen years, there will a constant drop in availability of experienced people due to this shifting void. Reduced availability of experienced vs inexperienced personnel will linger till then. In the current scheme, exit 75% after four years , magnifies the inexperience factor beyond acceptable limits. Resultantly , increase in service of Agniveer’s is not only desirable but mandatory.
Further the 75% exit model of Agnipath induces undesirable competition which is contrarian to esprit de corps and bonding required in the Army. The 75 % exit also gives very little hope of success to a young man who aspires to a stable career. It could also lead to social stigmatisation. Hence we need an alternate model. To get to that we need to see the devil in detail about the current model.
As stated in earlier articles the current model is based on the fact that for the next four years recruitment will continue at about 65 K per annum and intake adjustments done later. The overall strength of the Army will be maintained at 10.05 lakhs (12lakhs sanctioned strength -1.95 lakhs of current void). The table above represents the current model projected up to 2038, in which , years of service have been shown in the first column. The model is based on a two year intake. The progress of intake in each two year block from the first year of service till end of service has been depicted in the same colour code. Intake in each block from 2027-28 onwards is based on overall exit due to 75% of Agniveer’s as also normal retirement. The following issues stand out.
In 2027-28, there will be an experience inversion at sub unit level . It will be irreversible thereafter and progressively worsen (see table below). It will render subunits to be ineffective.
From 2031 onwards the overall strength of Agniveers will be greater than experienced personnel. This will also be irreversible.
From 2031 – 36 the intake into the Army will be extremely high for which infrastructure of recruitment, training and discharge, does not exist at present and will have to be invested into.
Every person who is rejected after four years of service will invariably put in a complaint for redressal and allege subjectivity in assessment . Hence the Indian Army will be swamped with associated legal cases from 2027 onwards. This is in an environment where there is no system of assessment in place.
In order to overcome all the problems associated with the current scheme, the Modified Agnipath scheme is being proposed. The model hinges on ‘hope of success’ rather than ‘fear of failure’. In this scheme it is visualised that Agniveers will serve for a minimum of 5 years and training will be extended to 9 months. The first exit will be at 5 years of service to the tune of 15 % only. Hence 85% of Agniveers have hope of retention. At 7 years , the second exit of another batch of 15 % is visualised. At 9 years’ service an exit of another 20% is visualised. Overall retention in service will be 50% for full pensionable service. In any case this was the initial thought process put out in the media. The intake and progress of the first five batches up to 2039 is tabulated below. The first adjustment starts 5 years after the scheme is put into effect. The retention pattern and progress of the initial batches is visible in the table below. This model gives adequate time to judge a person, train him in a speciality, retrain him for civil life and give him an honourable exit with confidence.
The table below shows the modified Agnipath Scheme fully fleshed out with exits of 15% after 5 years, 15% after 7 years and 20% after 9 years. The highlights of the table are
The first readjustment in intake to respond to the exit pattern takes place in 2028.It gives adequate time for tweaking the model after due deliberation based on inputs.
The model is well within training capabilities and capacities at all times.
Experience always prevails. Indian Army will have a judicious mix of experience and youth till 2039. Around 2033-34, there is a hint of experience inversion. However, since this is a five year basic service model as against the current four year service model, there will be adequate leeway to sort the issue out.
The modified scheme will stabilise in 2039. After that Intake patterns will revert to current levels once the zero intake void of the past three years bubbles out.
Most importantly, turbulence at unit level will decrease significantly with attendant benefits. It will also ease the requirement of constant assessment. Quantified non-intrusive models of assessment can be introduced.
This exit pattern can be varied to just 7 and 9 years also. However a single stage exit model is too turbulent by any standard.
It conforms to the pyramidical structure of the Army very well.
There is no doubt that in the modified multi stage exit Agnipath scheme, the financial outgo will increase in comparison to the current four year single exit model. However, this increase will not be too much if one considers the fact that by the time current Agniveers get to pensionable service, OROP effect would have vanished, there would have been considerable savings due to force reduction and India’s rising GDP will make it affordable. Experienced personnel handle weapons better to reduce MRO related expenditure which can become huge. View it from any perspective; a modified multi stage exit scheme makes more operational, social and national sense. However to make it successful and truly transformative, the parachute in the pay commissions have to be deployed.
Someone recently remarked to me, ‘the current Political leadership has an opportunity of a lifetime to make this scheme truly transformative for India and it will be worth ten Nobel Prizes’. If the Agnipath is modified to make it softer and if an honest clear hearted attempt is made to implement the recommendations of successive pay commissions, as outlined @https://www.gunnersshot.com/2022/07/agnipath-parachute-in-pay-commissions.html, Indian history will lionise the man who made it possible. On the other hand as some others wrote, if this ‘bad scheme which is badly marketed’ is persisted with, elections might be won but nothing else. The choice is of the man!
(The author is PVSM, AVSM, VSM, and a retired Director General of Artillery. He is currently a Professor in the Aerospace Department of IIT Madras. He writes extensively on defence and strategic affairs @ http://www.gunnersshot.com. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).