Registrations for Agnipath

Harsha Kakar
The air force, whose registration process for Agniveers under the Agnipath scheme commenced on 24th Jun and concluded on 05 Jul announced it received 7.5 lakh applications. The Government subsequently stated that these high numbers indicate that Agnipath had national acceptance. This, despite objections from veterans and strategic analysts, that it is retrograde. The navy, which began registration on 01 Jul, announcing that 20% of its initial recruitment of 3000, would be women, has already received 10,000 applications from women.
The army has commenced its process for 20,000 initial recruitments. Number of applications for the army are also expected to be high. After all there has been no recruitment for the past few years on the pretext of COVID. High numbers of applications does not certify that the scheme has been nationally accepted.
In Dec 2016, there were 20 Lakh applications for 20,000 posts of Safai Karamchari’s in UP. In 2018, there were 3700 PhDs, 50,000 graduates and 28,000 post-graduates amongst 93,000 applicants for 62 posts of messengers in UP police, needing a minimum qualification of class 5. Similarly, in Punjab in 2016, there were 5.87 Lakh applicants including graduates and post-graduates for about 7,500 police constable vacancies. In Gwalior there were 11,000 applicants for just fifteen vacancies for peons, drivers and watchmen in Dec last year. Amongst them were postgraduates and PhDs.
The above were just state level recruitments, not national, as being done for Agnipath. In reality, larger number of applications projects that there are very limited employment opportunities currently available in the country and for the youth, any job is acceptable, even if it is restricted to just four years.
Despite all promises made by every Government department, as also backed by few industrial houses, the youth remain sceptical of what their future would be, post their contractual service. For many, immediate employment remains their primary concern. They are aware that the Government is pushing a scheme, filled with promises which are unlikely to be kept, but will be exploited politically for the 2024 elections. By the time the current recruited youth conclude their contractual service, elections would have been held, a new Government in place. Political promises made four years ago would be forgotten.
With only Agnipath as the future mode of recruitment, implying all being on 4 years contract, short comings in technical establishments are becoming visible. Dental and medical branches take upto two years to train individuals into specific streams, now would be compelled to cut short training so as to exploit residual service. Quality of service in health care will be compromised. Similar would be the case of organizations with technology intensive equipment. But with an unrelenting Government, there is little that the forces can do but make the best of a poor decision.
The Recruitable Male Population policy, in vogue since 1966, included recruiting larger numbers from border districts of Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal and Uttarakhand, where population density and development are both low, while poverty remains high. It was also aimed at preventing them from falling prey to enemy designs. Shifting to a centralized all-India system implies that these regions will be ignored in favour of cities where better education facilities exist. This will enhance security concerns, an aspect the Government ignores.
No inputs are available for recruitment into scout battalions, currently earmarked for sons of the soil, who are better acclimatized, hardy and possess intimate knowledge of local terrain. If their recruitment also falls under the all-India pattern, then the very purpose of raising these organizations would be lost. This must be addressed.
Standards of recruitment have not been amended to back the Government’s claim that it is inducting technological superior youth to enable the forces to fight wars of the future. With a current shortfall of almost 2 Lakhs and just 40,000 recruited in the current year against possible 60,000 retirements, short falls will only increase. Operational units will possess less-than-optimal manpower, all because Government advisors, with zero knowledge of military operations have convinced the polity to bulldoze changes onto the forces, against their will.
Simultaneously, there is not a word on reduction of strength of defence civilians who form part of the supply chain and share the same budget. Further, force levels are dependent on threat perceptions. With the Government unwilling to even conduct basic threat assessment and issue a National Security Strategy, force reduction sare premature and illogical. The Government is downsizing whereas it should have been rightsizing. A world of a difference between the two approaches, which bureaucratic and political appointed defence planners have glossed over.
The Government repeatedly justifies its Agnipath decision by quoting the Kargil committee report which claims that the average age profile of the forces must be reduced. However, it does not mention that the same report, the subsequent Group of Ministers report, multiple pay commissions as also the 33rd report of the parliamentary committee, have also suggested moving substantial numbers from the army to the CAPFs after 7 years of service. This would have been far better approach than Agnipath in both finances and employment. The reason why these suggestions have been ignored is because the home ministry refuses to implement it. The same PMO which bulldozes its illogical schemes down the throats of the forces cannot do so in its own home ministry.
Sir Patrick Sanders, the current British Chief of General Staff, stated at the Royal United Service Institute in reference to growing threats from Russia post its invasion of Ukraine, ‘the war in Ukraine also reminds us of the utility of land power: it takes an army to hold, regain territory and defend the people who live there. It takes an Army to deter.’ In India, it is time we concentrate on creating force structures to deter threats rather than maintaining those force structures which we can finance.
As the world’s fifth largest economy, it is a shame that we compel our military to implement illogical schemes only because we cannot finance force levels for ensuring national security. We are compelled to exploit our youth for four best years of their life and then dump them, claiming that the Government is not responsible to provide secure employment. All this from a Government which proudly announces that it is working for the masses.
The author is former Major General (Retd)