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Agniveer: An army veteran’s detailed argument against Agnipath scheme – Part 1

The government’s intention is to kill the Army’s regimental system, which is the bedrock of fighting arms and comradeship; ‘Naam, Namak aur Nishan; to be sacrificed through virulent application  of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’.

agnipath scheme
Fresh row breaks out over religion and caste columns in Agnipath forms. (Photo source: IE)

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

The theatrics in the media briefing on Tour of Duty (ToD) on June 14 at the National Media Centre were amusing. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh looked smug watching the visibly uncomfortable Service Chiefs reading out prepared statements. The Army Chief even had the written answers to the questions asked by the audience. He also spoke last though the Army will get the maximum import from ToD. 

Rajnath appeared sanguine with the ToD set to overwhelm the military; he would remain in-charge even as ‘Marg Darshak’ after 2024. Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar didn’t utter a word or took questions with his tenure extended, expanding bureaucratic empire, and having pushed through ToD in full measure instead of the pilot project it was supposed to be.  Lieutenant General Anil Puri from DMA kept flashing photos of life in the Armed Forces (well known to youth and media) to give credence to what he presented.       

Asked whether six-month training would be enough for ToD, the Naval Chief responded that ToD inductees would be trained on one ship for two years and another ship for two years. The other two Chiefs thought it best to remain mum. Replying to another question, the Army Chief confirmed that all Army units would have manpower on an all India basis. When asked if this means the regimental system in the Army will finish, he said it would go but not immediately.

The government’s intention is to kill the Army’s regimental system, which is the bedrock of fighting arms and comradeship; ‘Naam, Namak aur Nishan; to be sacrificed through virulent application  of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. So what will fixed class regiments like say Rajput Regiment, Gorkha Regiment, Sikh Regiment be called? Will they be allotted numbers with police-ization of the Army or be renamed like ‘Savarkar Regiment’, ‘Mangal Pandey Regiment’, ‘Deen Dayal Upadhyay Regiment’ as being discussed on whatsapp?

Was this PR exercise required with the media already flooded with laudatory articles giving full details of the scheme based on handouts given by the government and the Army to ‘select’ writers – veterans included? Ironically, these 2-3 star veterans praised the paltry ToD package while enjoying their own pension and perks. The same stooges had helped cover up the PLA intrusions in Ladakh during 2020.

Preceding the ToD announcement was deafening noises about the enormous defence pension budget, which have flooded the media once again after the anti-ToD youth protests following the media briefing on Jun 14. But those crying about defence pensions deliberately don’t query   expenditure on the Group ‘A’ services and civilian-defence employees, questions like:

·        They have much faster promotions and are granted the  non-functional upgradation (NFU) allowance. All of them retire in the HAG/HAG+ grade, enjoying One Rank, One Pension (OROP) thereafter.

·        The above, combined with all serving till about 60 years of age, expenditure on them is enormous (serving and retired) which is kept under wraps.

·        Anout 45% of the defence pension bill still goes to civilian-defence employees.

·        Those coming under the National Pension Scheme (NPS) would get 15% additional pay while in service and a package on retirement, which is far more than what soldiers earn in service because they retire many years earlier.

·        Each of the seven lakh serving civilian-defence employees is five times more expensive than his/her uniformed counterpart.

·        Even civilians from the Ministry of Finance (MoF) on attachment with the Minister of Defence (MoD) are paid from the defence budget (pay and pension) – why?   

Despite periodic government announcements of no dearth of funds for the military, defence budgets have continued to remain negative in actual terms till China delivered the kick in 2020. Reduced defence budgets enabled the mafia to yell more about defence pensions obfuscating the expenditure on civilian-defence employees, as explained above. The Group ‘A’ services, civilian defence employees and CAPF get much more money serving for longer periods.  But the government enjoys soldiers fighting in inhospitable areas, facing risks and begging to maintain his family, educate his children and struggling to fend for himself in his old age.

In the case of OROP for the Armed Forces, the promise to revise OROP every year was buried by Defence Minister Arun Jaitley saying everything said in the run up to elections is not fulfilled. Report of the government-appointed one-man Justice Reddy Commission on OROP has been deliberately put in the freezer. As for the government’s promise to revise the pensions from July 2019, MoD has again sought more time, which may continue till eternity.

How was ToD initiated?

In his article ‘Tour of Duty – A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come’, Commander KP Sanjeev Kumar, former navy experimental test pilot, wrote that if the Indian Army and the MoD has its way, ToD will become a reality soon. He explains why ToD is a “bad idea” but what he said about the Army and MoD is 100% true.

How General Bipin Rawat became Army Chief and then CDS, what really are the CDS and DMA and why Army  recruitment was stopped two years ago has been explained in these columns earlier (https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/cds-the-bonded-hombre/2553329/). Rawat was the first Army Chief to be awarded PVSM for ‘services’ rendered as Chief.

General MM Naravane took over as Army Chief from Rawat on December 31, 2019, with Rawat moving as CDS. The ‘concept paper’ for ToD was prepared in-house by the Army in December 2019, which was then forwarded to DMA. It made no mention of expenditure on civil-defence employees and comparison with other civilian and police services. Was the paper initiated at the behest of the bureaucracy? Was Rawat looking beyond the CDS (minister in the Centre or Uttrakhand preceded by an ambassador/governor post?) with Naravane endearing himself to the government as well?

In 2020, media reports emerged that ToD will be tried out in the Army on experimental basis, simultaneous to Narawane expounding the virtues of ToD  (https://youtu.be/GpLGY78tC5Y). Rawat wanted ToD to be the ‘only’ source of entry for soldiers but Naravane wanted a pilot project for only 100 officers and 1000 soldiers, which was the paper forwarded. But then the DMA, part of MoD) took over and the Finance Minister was overjoyed seeing the opportunity to execute ToD large-scale, and the same made the only recruitment policy for soldiers. .

Isn’t India a rich  nation given the freebies showered by all political parties, money splurged to buy votes and lawmakers, as also the massive expenditure on daily propaganda which could dwarf the Joe Biden administration’s propaganda machinery in America. Has anyone taken a look at the expenditure in civilian-manned government organizations, including defence-related DRDO and DPSUs – their pay, pensions and perks? What about CAPF, their strength, pay, allowances and pensions? Why is only the military being targeted and within that the Army?

But this is not the first time that the Army hierarchy has let the service down for promoting themselves. There has been criticism over NFU having been recently granted to CRPF, not the Armed Forces. But some years back, Army Headquarters wrote to MoD that NFU should not be given to Army personnel. The logic given by the then Adjutant General was that individuals not  promoted but getting higher pay would stop working (sic), as if they could not be sacked. It is a different issue that someone in that military hierarchy was eyeing the post of Vice Chancellor of the Indian National Defence University (INDU), foundation stone for which was laid by the then prime minister on May 23, 2013 at Gurgaon (Haryana). But the next government had other plans.    

Above are just two examples out of many. Also, how the Army shoots itself in the foot can be gauged from the article written by Major Navdeep Sigh a decade ago. There are other instances of the Army’s naiveté. Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, when serving as Naval Chief, had proposed to the MoD establishing a joint structure for Special Forces of all the three services. MoD asked comments from the Air Force and the Army. IAF replied they don’t have any Special Forces – ‘Garuds’ came into being years later. But the Army’s DGMO responded by saying, “We don’t visualize trans-border employment of Special Forces”.

The National Security Guards (NSG) was offered to the Army in the past but Army declined saying anti-hijack is not their forte. But Army continues to provide manpower to NSG (in many instances working under police officers) for the sake of extra regimental posts despite the CCS note (under which NSG was established in September 22, 1986) specifically stating that Army is to provide  manpower to NSG only for first 10 years – till September 1996.

Above is only a small glimpse of the wheels within wheels in the system. Part II and the concluding part will take a closer look at ToD.

Also read| ‘Youth doesn’t want political jumlas’: An army veteran’s detailed argument against Agnipath scheme – Part 2

(The author is an Indian Army veteranViews expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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