The discussions on the Tour of Duty (ToD) scheme for the Indian armed forces have been on for nearly two years. While the concept is new for the Indian armed forces, similar schemes have been implemented in several other countries, without any adverse impacts.
The Department of Military Affairs under the late Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat had been exploring a proposal for a three-year ToD for non-commissioned personnel. The justification for such a scheme stemmed from a desire to curb the high revenue budget covering salaries and pensions of the Indian armed forces.
The case for reduction in the size of armed forces was prompted by necessity to push a hidebound military to evolve in meeting the requirements of agility, combined arms warfare, and high tempo operations. The status quo of leaving things as they are was found unacceptable given the ballooning pension and salary bill of the services restricting their capacity to integrate new technologies, modernise equipment, and train personnel for complex tasks and missions.
Implementing the idea involves a new cadre management scheme of the armed forces. A short-stint ToD scheme or Agnipath, has evoked mixed reactions There are several objections that have been proffered for why it is wise not to pursue such a proposal. On the other hand, the supporters of the idea feel that such a scheme should be analysed with an open mind.
Cadre management is a human resource (HR) exercise carried out by all organisations. It is meant to consider the need for changing times and new ground realities.
In the case of Agnipath, there are three players: the Government of India, the armed forces, and the to-be-enrolled ‘Agniveers’. Any HR exercise should be a win-win for all. The national exchequer should be able to save money, which can then be used for modernisation of the forces. The armed forces should achieve a younger warrior profile without compromising on quality or capability.
And, Agniveers should be looked after in terms of employment benefits and post-exit opportunities. There is always apprehension when a change is made. Recall the resistance of the armed forces when it came to inducting women. Yet, 20 years later, women are being inducted into combat roles; and they are doing very well.
Agniveers will be selected from across the country and enrolled for four years. This will also apply to units that have fixed-class composition. The selection process should improve homogeneity, national cohesion and integration. Candidates will be between 18 and 24 years. The selection criteria will cover age, educational, medical and physical standards.
Agniveers will go through 26 weeks of basic military training (the existing module is of 44 weeks), bear a distinct rank; and have on-the-job training in the unit. After the four-year engagement, they will go back to society. During the service, their uniform will have a distinct insignia.
Agniveers will be entitled to all medical facilities, leave, CSD facilities, honours and awards. They will have a fixed salary package of around ₹30,000 per month, with annual increments. In addition, they will get the risk and hardship, dress, and travel allowances.
Agniveers will be provided life insurance cover of ₹48 lakh for their engagement. They will also be entitled to compensation for disability. One-time exgratia ₹44 lakh will be paid in case of death on duty in addition to the insurance.
A non-lapsable “Agniveer Corpus Fund” will be created. It will be made of 30 per cent salary contribution by the individual with matching figure by the Government. It will attract an interest rate equivalent to the Public Provident Fund, and this tax-exempt ‘Seva Nidhi’ package will become nearly ₹10 lakh when the individual leaves the forces. At the end of the engagement period, a detailed skillset certificate will be provided to Agniveers, who can’t be absorbed in regular cadre, for possible employment outside.
Since they would be still in their 20s, they can be absorbed by the state police forces or serve the security requirements of corporate India.