Why the Argument of Pension Burden is Not Relevant in the Context of Agnipath Debate

agnipath agniveer

In the context of the ongoing debate on the Agnipath scheme, one of the factors that has been mentioned sometimes in its favor relates to the need for reducing the pension burden. However this is not relevant due to the reasons given below.

Firstly the amount of civilian defense personnel pensions is often included in the armed forces pension bill. This should be excluded and if this is done then the pension bill for armed forces deceases significantly.

Secondly, in the context of the Agnipath debate, what is much more relevant is the pension provided for our great jawans, airmen and sailors. If only this figure is discussed, then this will turn out to be much smaller relative to the sums often mentioned in this debate.

Thirdly, when you see the armed forces pension bill as a percentage of the total pension bill, then you must keep in mind that in the unorganized sector, among farmers and workers , the self-employed and others, about 60 million citizens are not getting any pension at all. Sooner or later, this gap has to be filled, and as soon as this is filled with a very substantial hike for unorganized sector pensions, then the share of the armed forces pension budget to the overall pension budget will become much smaller.

Next, we should not forget that fiscal constraints appear to be high only because the government has not tapped the richest sections adequately. It has in recent years lowered the corporate tax significantly, given away many undesirable concessions and failed to tax the windfall gains made by several billionaires. At the same time enormous funds are being committed to highly wasteful projects. The national river-links project which has been widely condemned for its potentially highly destructive impact on disrupting river ecology as well as its large-scale displacement was estimated in 2016 to cost Rs. 11 lakh crore officially, but today this estimate will be nearer to Rs. 15 to 20 lakh crore. Rs. 45,000 crore has been committed just for one of the various river-links projects—the Ken-Betwa river project—while its basic  viability has been repeatedly questioned and the project involves the axing of 23 lakh trees according to dated official estimates ( many more according to latest unofficial estimates).

Lastly, we must remember that the pension burden can never be too high in the context of those who risk their life for the nation.

Hence if the pension burden is not relevant at all and if in addition the combat readiness of our armed forces, with its present age-structure, has never been in doubt, then it is clear that there is no real need for introducing the Agnipath scheme at all.

While there is no real need for the Agnipath scheme, its adverse impacts are many, as pointed out by many highly respected veterans of our armed forces. These include serious harm to the existing ethos and time honored traditions of our armed forces and their regimental system. In many departments, in army but even more so in Air Force and Navy, the technical training requirements are such that the Agnipath scheme of four years duration will be particularly appropriate. Veterans have also drawn attention to the earlier poor record of absorbing retiring armed forced personnel in suitable employments, and some of those rushing with high assurances and promises also do not have a past record to match these assurances. In the absence of such assured employment, the various possibilities of militarily trained but unemployed personnel being misused in ways that are harmful for democracy remain open, and several expert commentators have already drawn attention to this.

For any big change to be introduced two basic questions are generally asked—

Firstly, is there any compelling need for this new scheme to be introduced? In the case of Agnipath, there is no compelling need.

Secondly, has any very great improvement suddenly become available? In the case of Agnipath what is being suggested is not an improvement but something which is full of apparent and potential problems and risks.

Hence after the first year the Agnipath scheme should be abandoned and we should continue with the system that had served us well for many years before the sudden introduction of Agnipath.

This is not to say that reforms should not be discussed, but Agnipath is not the reform we need.

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


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