December 5, 2022

Agnipath and the Skills Googly

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The Skill India campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 15, 2015, was to train over 30 crore by 2022. Rs 17,000 crore were allotted for this in Union Budget 2017-2018. Also, government invested Rs 4,000 crore for the Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion Program (SANKALP). How many have been trained until now is not known but the government wants the military to provide skill training to Agniveers in four-years

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

The massive publicity blitz and hurried execution of the Tour of Duty (ToD) scheme, together with the names Agnipath and Agniveer, indicate the scheme has a definite political agenda, six-months training and four-year tenure are grossly inadequate for Agniveers to match regular soldiers. This will affect the Army, which is already downsized by 1,20,000 with regular recruitment stopped over the past two years. The strength will reduce further with 60,000 retiring annually and 46,000 inducted on ToD, latter being the only avenue for soldier recruitment henceforth.

Army’s Vice Chief says by 2032, the Army will be of 50 per cent Agniveers – meaning 50 per cent quasi conscripts. The PLA is mobilised along the entire border and Chinese intentions are suspect. But the government even refuses to learn the lessons from the nightmare Nam Ka Chu (https://youtu.be/PLMg_sVAgso). Agnipath will also kill Army’s Regimental System of the Infantry and Armoured Corps, adversely affecting the cutting edge.

The reasoning behind Agnipath has changed from the bloated defence-pension bill to younger and fitter army, disciplining the youth (which is not military’s job), and enhancing the combat capability (sic). Defence Minister Rajnath Singh now says saving money is no issue.  Now a recent report in media has quoted NSA Ajit Doval saying that four-years from now India will be a US$5 trillion economy needing many skilled persons; hence Agnipath.

The Skill India campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 15, 2015, was to train over 30 crore by 2022. Rs 17,000 crore were allotted for this in Union Budget 2017-2018. Also, government invested Rs 4,000 crore for the Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion Program (SANKALP). How many have been trained until now is not known but the government wants the military to provide skill training to Agniveers in four-years. One estimate is respective service will spend over Rs 40 lakh for each Agniveer (four-year tenure), which amounts to combined military expenditure of Rs 18,400 crores on the first lot of 46,000 Agniveers; recurring expenditure increasing with passage of years.   

The question is what skills would Agniveers learn in four-years and what employment will they get after leaving the Army? Skill development for Agniveers cannot be limited to handling personal weapons. There are sophisticated weapon systems, technologies and complex equipment in the three Services – Army, Navy and Air Forces.  It takes at least five-six years to gain sufficient practical experience in operation and maintenance of lethal weapon systems, and handling technologies in use.

In a specialised regiment like The Parachute Regiment comprising Special Forces, a four-year tenure is too less and retention must be increased from 25 per cent to 75-80 per cent for the units to retain specialised combat capability for instant employment. Woefully all this is beyond the comprehension of politicians and bureaucrats sitting in air-conditioned offices.

According to Vice Admiral AK Singh, who oversaw the submarine force of the Navy and commanded the Indian Coast Guard, says that Agnipath needs urgent modification for a hi-tech 3D service like the Navy (operating sophisticated warships, SSKs, SSBNs, SSNs, ship-borne aircraft) increasing the period from four to seven years and retention to minimum 25 per cent to 30 per cent (https://twitter.com/subnut/status/1538420064478560256).

The question is what skills would Agniveers learn in four-years and what employment will they get after leaving the Army? Skill development for Agniveers cannot be limited to handling personal weapons. There are sophisticated weapon systems, technologies and complex equipment in the three Services – Army, Navy and Air Forces.  It takes at least five-six years to gain sufficient practical experience in operation and maintenance of lethal weapon systems, and handling technologies in use

What job will Agniveers get after four-years in the military and the appropriate placement (like all ESM) should be the responsibility of the government but doesn’t go beyond off the cuff announcements by ministers in terms of percentage reserved for ESM. Doval has not even mentioned that – only US$5 trillion economy. Coming down to brass-tacks, where will an individual be placed who during his four-year tenure was say in an AD missile regiment, an armoured regiment, on a ship or submarine, in an air-force squadron or unit? Where is parallel skill placement possible; compatible with skills they have learnt, and how many would be accommodated? Where are the parallel skill vacancies possible?

The NSA and the Union Ministers are unlikely to go beyond announcing reserved vacancies for ESM but without any follow up. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has announced 10 per cent reservations in Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) for Agniveers but statistics of 2021 show that of the ESM reserved seats in CAPF/CPMF, only 2.2 per cent in Group ‘A’, 0.87 per cent in Group ‘B’, 0.47 per cent in Group ‘C’ and 0 per cent in Group ‘D’ have been filled up. Being the Home Minister, will he order these vacancies be filled up 100 per cent over next three-four months? Besides, would this be parallel skill placement – compatible with what they learnt in the Army?

Similarly, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has announced multiple reservations but these are no assurances at all, especially commensurate with the skills they acquired, to whatever level in the military. There are thousands of ESM looking for jobs already, against which the overall 2021 statistics for reserved recruitment of ESM are as follows: in 13 Banks – 9.1 per cent in Group ‘C’ and 21.34 per cent in Group ‘D’; CAPF/CPMF – 2.2 per cent in Group ‘A’, 0.87 per cent in Group ‘B’, 0.47 per cent in Group ‘C’ and 0 per cent in Group ‘D’; CPSUs (94 of 170) – 4.67 per cent in Group ‘B’, 1.15 per cent in Group ‘C’ and 0.3 per cent in Group ‘D’; Central Government Departments (34 of 77) – 0 per cent in Group ‘B’, 1.29 per cent in Group ‘C’ and 2.56 per cent in Group ‘D’.

Isn’t it the responsibility of the government that these reserved percentages for ESM are always maintained 100 per cent full? It is understandable that the politicians and bureaucrats want to keep the police and CAPF on the right side because police man intelligence agencies like the IB and CBI, and are privy to their black deeds. But why make false promises of reservations for ESM in these organisations and not follow up.

A BJP leader has announced that Agniveers after leaving the Army will be employed as security guards in BJP offices. Isn’t this demeaning for someone who is specifically sent to the Army to acquire skills. Does the government have a plan beyond few security guards with thousands of ESM waiting for job?

The example of Lance Naik Satpal Singh of 8 SIKH indicates how little the government cares for even decorated ESMs. Satpal was wounded in the Kargil Conflict and awarded Vir Chakra for having killed Captain Karnal Sher Khan given Nishan-e-Haider (posthumous) by Pakistan. After retiring, Satpal worked as a traffic cop in a small town of Punjab, till media noticed and reported his predicament. So, 20 years after earning a Vir Chakra, he was elevated to Head Constable in 2019.

What job will Agniveers get after four-years in the military and the appropriate placement (like all ESM) should be the responsibility of the government but doesn’t go beyond off the cuff announcements by ministers in terms of percentage reserved for ESM

Union Ministers often talk of the corporate ready to employ ESM; a few have, but in small numbers. After the government announced Agnipath, Anand Mahindra (Mahindra Group) lauded the government and said he would employ Agniveers. But when Admiral Arun Prakash asked him why he doesn’t employ ESM already waiting and how many ESM he has employed, Anand Mahindra didn’t respond        (https://thenewzindia.com/former-navy-chief-fires-sharp-questions-to-anand-mahindra-on-the-promises-of-giving-jobs-to-agniveers/).

In September 2019, government slashed the corporate tax rates to 22 per cent for domestic companies. The total revenue forgone from reduction in corporate tax rate and other relief to then was estimated at Rs 1,45,000 crore, which has multiplied over the years. It is well known that the corporate fund elections and that is why the corporate tax rate was cut. This is why Anand Mahindra was trying to curry favour but was caught on the wrong foot.  

To top this, there is tweet from Abhishek Kumar saying: “I am Ex Navy Engineering Sailor, released from Navy on July 31 2017, I approached Mahindra Group for suitable job but they didn’t reply to my request, after five years still I am jobless and now suddenly all companies are ready to give jobs to Agniveer. What a joke.” Abhishek also tweeted copies of letters written to Anand Mahindra since 2020 but has received no response.

Now Lt Gen Anil Puri, Additional Secretary, Department of Military Affairs (DMA) has tweeted: “We will train them (Agniveers) so well that they will be able to work with Tatas and Ambanis,” He doesn’t mention in what capacity and how many thousands will be absorbed. Being in the run for CDS, Puri’s chaploosi appears increasing by the day.

Puri needs to read the reply by Admiral Arun Prakash to Anand Mahindra, which read: “Why await this new scheme? Has the Mahindra Group, so far, reached out to thousands of highly skilled and disciplined ex-Servicemen (Jawans & Officers), retiring every year and desperately seeking a second career. It would be nice to get some statistics from your Group.” Anand Mahindra went mum and Puri needs to stop making clownish statements as well. What skills the ToD will be able to learn in the limited four-year period has already been discussed above.

Rajnath says money is not the issue, so why demonetise the military? The skills googly is unconvincing. Thousand of ESM are waiting for a job. The types of Anil Puri are good for propaganda but why doesn’t raise the issue of very high percentage of ESM reserve vacancies lying unfulfilled?

Rajnath says money is not the issue, so why demonetise the military? The skills googly is unconvincing. Thousand of ESM are waiting for a job. The types of Anil Puri are good for propaganda but why doesn’t raise the issue of very high percentage of ESM reserve vacancies lying unfulfilled?

Apparently, the only assured jobs for ToD personnel after the four-year stint are as security guards – as announced by the BJP leader. Union Ministers will announce reservations and there will be statements by the corporate as well but beyond this, the ESM will be left on their own. Since the government has not even filled the existing reserved vacancies for ESM, nothing much can be expected for Agniveers after four-years. Otherwise, government should come out with a concrete plan.

The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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