Why Senior Veterans of Armed Forces Are Worried about Agnipath

agnipath agniveer

Few changes in armed forces have been as controversial as the Agnipath scheme of recruitment announced in June. It is very important for national interest to examine carefully the objections raised by several very senior and experienced veterans of armed forces, some of whom have distinguished themselves not just in the battlefield but as also as very learned commentators on national defense and related issues.

In a review titled ‘Flaws in new policy of inducting Agniveers’ ( published in The Tribune, June 16, 2022), Lt Gen Tejinder Sahrawat (Retd), Former Deputy Chief, Integrated Defence Staff  has stated, “ At present, after basic training of a year-plus where a soldier learns basic skills in the training centres, he learns the application of these skills in tactical groupings and tactical situations in exercises at the unit and formation levels in the next two to three years before he can be called a fully trained soldier, ie the time by which an Agniveer will be released from the armed forces. With a curtailed training, an Agniveer will neither be able to gain any worthwhile expertise in handling modern expensive military equipment nor understand the nuances of a modern battlefield of artificial intelligence, cyber warfare etc.”

Further this highly experienced commentator has stated, “ The battle-winning factor in the Indian Army is its regimental system, where a soldier with his association with his regiment over a period of time starts taking pride in the history and battle achievements of his regiment and develops espirit de corps and camaraderie, which motivate him to remain steadfast in life- threatening situations…This regimental system which is at the core of the battle-winning factor will totally break down with the transitory Agniveers, leading to a failure of the military missions. If the policy of Agniveer enrolment is continued, in the next 15 years, all regiments will have 75% inadequately trained agniveers, with regimental service ranging from one day to three and a half years, making the army no better than a conscript army.”

This review has questioned the assumption that the pension burden of armed forces is too heavy, comparing the pension expenditure of six lakh defense widows and 20 lakh veterans with the pensions being paid to 52 lakh civilian pensioners. What is more, the present defense pension budget includes the expenditure on six lakh current defense civilian pensioners, who retire at the age of 60 years. If this is excluded, the share of pensions in defense expenditure comes down from 22% to 18%.

Another distinguished commentator who has raised very relevant questions regarding Agnipath is Maj. Gen. S.G. Vombatkere (Retd.). He has questioned Agnipath being justified on the basis of the need for a more combative, younger force, stating that the combative performance of the present regular cadre soldier in any operational environment over the past decades is proven beyond doubt, and is not lacking in any matter. Hence, he argues, Agnipath is a case of trying to fix a problem that does not exist!

Vombatkere, known for his thoughtful essays on a diversity of issues, has shown concern for the Agniveers who leave the armed forces after 4 years. In the middle of the various claims being made to find jobs for them, he has provided a reality check by pointing out that for decades absorption of fully trained and disciplined veteran soldiers into reserved quotas in CASFs, state police and private sector has been “worse than dismal”. If there are not adequate jobs, possibilities of being approached by mercenaries and undesirable forces of various kinds remain. Keeping in view these factors and the adverse impact on combative abilities of forces, this distinguished commentator has asked for withdrawal of Agnipath or testing it as a pilot. He has also regretted that such an important decision was taken with lack of parliamentary debate. (Based on essays published in The Citizen and Countercurrents.org)

Maj. Gen. Ashok K. Mehta (Retd.), another distinguished commentator on military affairs, has also raised serious questions regarding Agnipath in his essay published in the Tribune (            Recruitment overhaul plan behind Agnipath stir, June 22). He has stated, “The operational defects accruing from the system which by 2032 will have 50% regulars and 50% Agniveers are too obvious to be overstated…For veterans of my ilk, fortunate to fight in all wars and counter-insurgencies,  the biggest burden being inflicted is destruction of the time-tested and carefully nurtured regimental system.”

There is need to consider the implications in the context of not just the Army but also the Air Force and the Navy. Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retd) is also former additional director general of Centre for Air Power Studies. In a discussion organized by the Hindu ( June 24, 2022, Will Agnipath energize or demoralize the military), he pointed out, in the context of more technically oriented work, the problems likely to be encountered with Agnipath. He stated, “So at the ripe time of four years, when they are are ready to be utilized to their full potential, you’re asking 75% of the people to go. And then you get a new lot coming in and you have to start from scratch.  A person who would become a supervisor after five-six years of service leaves. A lot of money, and more importantly, effort and knowledge as well as wisdom are going out of the system.”

Lt Gen D.S.Hooda (Retd.), participating in the same discussion,  expressed concern at the inadequacy of the consultation process while making such a big change. He stated, “This is a massive change that we have brought out in the recruitment process. I am not sure there has been enough discussion and debate even within the services on how we are going to take people, train them, inculcate in them the ethos of the military, and how long they will serve…Has it been debated enough within the organization, at the level of the commanding officers and company commanders who are actually going to be bearing the brunt of what is going to happen?”

Hence the suggestion of this distinguished army commander is to “put the scheme through some kind of a testbed and be open to major changes, if and when required.”

Hence it is clear that several very distinguished veterans from armed forces are very concerned about Agnipath and feel the urgent need for either withdrawing it, or testing it as a pilot before taking a final decision.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Planet in Peril and Man over Machine—A Path to Peace.


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