Broadsword comment: One recruit, one salary - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.
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Thursday, 30 June 2022

Broadsword comment: One recruit, one salary

Agnipath pits batchmates against one another, creating incentives for each other’s failure rather than success

 

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 1st July 22

 

The government, deaf to protests, is going ahead with implementing the so-called Agnipath Yojana recruitment scheme that it announced without warning on June 14. Without much explanation of its benefits and drawbacks, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has presented it as a “transformative measure” that will change the recruitment pattern of Agniveers’ (hereafter, soldiers, sailors and airmen who join under the Agnipath Yojana) from the current long-service, 15-year bond that culminates in a lifelong pension; to a mainly short-service contract under which annual tranches of recruits will serve for four years. After that, 75 per cent of them go home without a pension. This has evoked sharp anger amongst unemployed youth, who have already missed out on more than 100,000 military recruitment vacancies over two years of lockdown, and will miss out on more until recruitment begins afresh.

 

Pensions have become, especially after the implementation of “One Rank, One Pension” in 2015, an unaffordable chunk of the annual defence budget. In the current year’s (Financial Year 2022-23) defence allocation of Rs 525,120 crore, a whopping 23 per cent – about Rs 119,696 crore – is allocated for pensions. Add to that the salary payroll for serving soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians (hereafter “soldiers”), and personnel costs rise to 54 per cent of the entire defence budget.




The objective of the Agnipath Yojana is clearly to whittle down pension liabilities. Of each annual batch of recruits – 46,000 recruits for each of the first four years, 90,000 in the fifth year; and 125,000 from the sixth year onwards – one-quarter will be chosen to be retained in service. This means that, from the 10th year onwards, Agnipath will yield 31,250 soldiers each year (25 per cent of 125,000) for extended service tenures, while another 93,750 will head home after completing their four-year service tenures.

 

The defence ministry has decided that the selected Agniveers will be enrolled in the army, navy and air force under their respective Service Acts for a period of four years. They will form a distinct rank in the military, different from any other existing ranks. Upon completing four years of service, Agniveers will be offered an opportunity to apply for permanent enrolment in the military. Selection will be the exclusive jurisdiction of the Armed Forces. Enrolment will be based on “All India, All Class” basis and the eligible age will be between 17 years and six months to 21 years.

 

The defence ministry claims there will be a range of benefits from Agnipath. It says the rank and file wouldbe younger, fitter, more mentally robust and more technologically savvy, with the average age dropping from the current 32 years to a youthful 27. These youthful soldiers, the MoD argues, would provide a bank of disciplined employees, who could side-step smoothly into government and factory jobs. To ease this transition, the government has reserved jobs for retiring Agniveers, including 10 per cent of vacancies in central armed police forces (CAPFs), the Coast Guard, in defence ministry civilian posts and in 16 defence public sector undertakings. Some 85 private firms have promised jobs to retiring Agniveers. To ease his transition into civilian life, the defence ministry will give each Agniveer a “Seva Nidhi” package at the end of the four-year engagement, amounting to a tax-free Rs 11-12 lakhs. Even so, the Agniveer’s remuneration, which starts at Rs 30,000 per month and rises over three years to Rs 40,000 per month, ensures that he (women are not yet covered by this scheme) remains at a lower pay grade than even the junior-most soldier in the unit.

 

Financial implications apart, the Agnipath Yojana should not be implemented at the cost of a unit’s combat effectiveness. For a military like India’s, which is operationally committed around the year on two-and-a-half fronts – China, Pakistan and in Jammu & Kashmir – treating soldiers equally has always been an article of faith and a basic principle of combat leadership. If there are two separate pay grades for soldiers who perform the same battlefield functions, it will not be long before the one drawing lower pay turns on his better paid compatriot. He will reason – and, sooner or later voice his belief – that since the other is paid better, he must take on higher risk in operations and discharge his battlefield functions better as well. This will be the inevitable outcome of introducing differential recruitment and service models within the same combat unit. 

 

The greatest unknown in this risky initiative lies in the way human relationships will play out – not just between the Agniveers, who will be competing with their fellows for permanent jobs beyond their four-year tenures – but also between the Agniveers and the existing full-time soldiers. It should be obvious to military leaders, steeped in the regimental system that is itself based on long term loyalties – that Agnipath pits batchmates against one another, creating incentives for each other’s failure rather than for each other’s success. Instead of soldiers functioning like brothers-in-arms and comrades who put their lives on the line for each other, the structure of the Agnipath Yojana encourages compatriots to view each other as competitors, the success of one coming at the expense of another. Everyone knows that out of every four batchmates, only one is going to be retained in service and that too on more favourable terms than hithertofore. How this plays out will perhaps hold the keys to the success or failure of Agnipath.

 

Every country that has implemented major military personnel and manpower reforms has done so with great deliberation and awareness of the high cost of failure. Nowhere are the risks so high as in India, where the defence allocations are tiny, relative to the size of the force. Yet, incredibly, the Agnipath Yojana was announced hurriedly without even a small-scale pilot project to validate the key assumptions and beliefs. Instead of circulating the proposed project widely and holding consultations and discussions, the military has rushed headlong towards implementation. It is still not too late to take a step back and obtain buy-in from the most important stakeholders – the military’s combat units.


6 comments:

  1. # if the conclusions, analysis are valid, credible, then all that has to be done is pay those enlisting for four year a basic pay that is 20 percent more than those enlisting for 15 years, given that the latter have security of service, and will subsequently receive pension for the rest of their lives.
    regimental ethos is a myth no different from the martial races myth. else ahirs [yadavs] would not displayed cool courage, exemplary steadfastness, as was the case in 1962 for the non-kumaoni ahirs of C company of 13 kumaon. on the other hand, according to the official report, [henderson brooks, bhagat report pages 174-75], 1st battalion, sikh regiment at nathu la, scarpered hours prior to any evidence of approaching enemy claiming that the chinese PLA was firing at them from all sides, and they were overwhelmed. when the brigade commander, who had already been on his way, arrived at the battalions abandoned position in nathu-la at 0500 hours, there was no chinese army in evidence. only the battalion CO and fifteen men were present. deployed at baramula during 1948 this august battalion's soldiers were being taken to military hospital srinagar in disturbing numbers with self inflicted wounds. ahirs are not enlisted into the president's body guard, martial races are. for that matter neither are those communities within sikhs who are currently placed in the sikh light infantry, bombay engineers, and denied recruitment into the sikh regiment, bengal engineers, 1 horse, 4 horse, 9 horse, allowed into the PBG.

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    1. I believe Colonel Shukla was flagging the very real possibility that in a country like India where everyone looks for a stable, permanent job, the Agnipath or an Agnipath-like scheme may very well give rise to unhealthy, perhaps even toxic competition among Agniveers in their bid to be retained. Colonel Shukla raises a pertinent question: What kind of and how much attachment is he likely to develop in four years with either his regiment or his fellow soldiers? Look at it this way, an average Agniveer may find himself among soldiers form very different backgrounds and in a regiment that used to recruit from a very different area. To boot, he will be given just 6 lacs at the end of his service; most of the rest will come from his own salary and he will be paid less than regular soldiers for the same work while in service. There is also the question of fairness. (More on this later)

      I would like to point out that in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War, a number of units that had been raised following the 62' War with China and whose many green soldiers had not been broken in by then broke on the battlefield when the going got tough and fled. The likely explanation is that they had not formed bonds of comradery or at any rate not strong enough to stand their ground and fight in an actual war. Now I am not arguing for the mixed, mixed-fixed or fixed class regimental systems. The Mahar Regiment and The Brigade of the Guards which are All India-All Class regiments have performed well up to the present time.

      Also, the Western countries that have implemented similar models did not have adversarial countries like China and Pakistan breathing down on their borders, i.e., they had secure borders, a luxury which India unfortunately doesn't have, nor is likely to have anytime soon.

      Coming back to the fairness question: As per the latest knowledge that I have, nothing has been said about disabled Agniveers being eligible for disability pension or for free medical treatment after service for as long as needed. Also, it hasn't been said that the next-of-kin of dead Agniveers will be eligible for family pension or lifelong medical benefits. I know there is insurance money, the remaining pay for four years and Seva Nidhi that they will get but is it enough for a disabled ex-soldier and his and a dead Angiveer's families to live a lifetime on? Even a civilian government employee who has been in service for a very short while can get disability pay and later on even disability pension. Also, Agniveers won't be given dearness allowance, as if inflation won't happen for them! I don't know what to call it if not short-changing the future "Agniveers", so to speak. All this would suggest that the government already values the blood and sacrifice of future Agniveers less than those of officers and regular soldiers. Is it fair? The scheme in its current avatar leaves a lot to be desired.

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  2. Are the soldiers alone drawing pay and pensions in this country, and at such great risks, bequething many fundamental liberties??? It is the poor in remote villages , and to some extent , the wards of serving soldiers and ex servicemen who enroll themselves. Iti is the unkindest cut on their aspirations and livelihood by the present dispensation.

    Huge additional pay and pensions are drawn by the so called organised group A services ever since sixth pay commission by way of Non Functional Upgrade , a patently unjustified and immoral act ,which no one seems bothered about.

    Agnipath scheme is one more stab on the soldier ( who has no voice) by this government, after imposition of tax on disability pensions, opening of cantonment roads to public and compromising security of separated families of soldiers who live there, whittling down of canteen facilities, steep cuts on funding of ECHS , imposition of substandard & heavy Arjun tanks produced by the inefficient ordnance factories on the army and unprecedented politicization of the armed forces in the last 7 years or so

    Is it the most opportune time for such colossal churning when the Chinese are at our doors, having occupied approximately 1000 sq kms in the past two years ???

    God save us all

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  3. George Ninan, are you an army veteran?

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  4. This argument has some logical issues...even today only a handful of officers make it to the General ranks. After becoming a Colonel, the competition is fierce and steep. In fact right from Services Selection Board (SSB) stage officers are competing. That doesn't pit officers against each other...I believe as long as the evaluation is objective and transparent, AND implemented fairly, its no different than so many other "filters" that armed forces use to weed out the less worthy candidates.

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    1. PC officers have job security and guaranteed pension waiting for them after twenty years of service. SSC officers also have more job security than will Agniveers. Not to mention, most officers are educationally better off than most Jawans. Their job prospects outside the military have always been and still are better than most Jawans' career prospects on Civvy Street.

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