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Business News/ News / India/  ‘Agnipath scheme came like a bolt from the blue,’ says former Army chief MM Naravane

‘Agnipath scheme came like a bolt from the blue,’ says former Army chief MM Naravane

Former army chief General MM Naravane talked about India's military recruitment policy, ‘Agnipath,’ the scheme, which aimed to lower the age demographic of the armed forces, allowed for the recruitment of individuals aged 17.5 to 21 for four years.

Former army chief Manoj Naravane (Hindustan Times)Premium
Former army chief Manoj Naravane (Hindustan Times)

Former army chief General MM Naravane said that India's military recruitment policy, ‘Agnipath’ put the armed forces in surprise.

As reported by PTI, General Naravane in his memoir ‘Four Stars of Destiny’ elaborates on the birth of the ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme, considered India's most radical military recruitment policy.

Shortly after assuming the role of Army Chief, General MM Naravane discussed the ‘Tour of Duty’ scheme with the prime minister in a meeting in early 2020. Originally proposed for the Army and involving short-term soldier tenures, the scheme's scope was later expanded to encompass all three services when the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) introduced a broader formulation months later, the report said.

Also Read: Agnipath is only one pillar of a grand goal

General MM Naravane, the 28th Army Chief from December 31, 2019, to April 30, 2022, mentioned that during his tenure, discussions took place regarding different models of the ‘Tour of Duty’ scheme.

Initially, the Army's perspective was that 75 per cent of the recruited personnel could be retained, while the remaining 25 per cent should be released.

In June 2022, the government introduced the Agnipath recruitment scheme, focusing on the short-term enlistment of individuals to lower the age demographic of the three services. The initiative allows for the recruitment of individuals aged between 17.5 and 21 for four years, with the option to retain 25 per cent of them for an additional 15 years.

What does Naravane say in his book ‘Four Stars of Destiny’?

In his book published by Penguin Random House India, Naravane also remembered that the initial monthly salary for the recruits in the first year was set at only 20,000 (inclusive of all components), a figure he deemed as “unacceptable."

Naravane said, “This was just not acceptable. Here, we were talking about a trained soldier, who was expected to lay down his life for the country. Surely a soldier could not be compared with a daily wage labourer?"

He stressed, “Based on our very strong recommendations, this was later raised to 30,000 per month."

Also Read: Agnipath scheme: What benefits will Agniveers enjoy after 4 years of service? Centre explains

After the new formulation of the scheme, Gen Naravane said that the Army was “taken by surprise by this turn of events, but for the Navy and Air Force, it came like a bolt from the blue."

“When I had first sounded out the PM about the Tour of Duty scheme, it was more on the lines of a short-service option at the soldier level, similar to the Short Service Commission scheme for officers that was already in vogue."

"Just as a limited number of SSC officers are taken each year, likewise a limited number of jawans would be similarly enrolled and released after the completion of their 'tour' with the option of re-enlisting for another tour, if found to be fit," he writes.

According to Naravane's account, the subsequent months were relatively uneventful as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic became the primary focus, closely followed by the conflicts in Galwan in eastern Ladakh.

Also Read: Agnipath scheme: Govt releases fact sheet as protests erupt across country

“However, the prime minister's office (PMO) was considering this proposal but with a much wider scope and applicability. In the PMO formulation, not only should the complete intake of the year be short-service based, but it would also apply to all three services," he writes.

“Having become a tri-service matter, it now fell on the CDS, Gen Bipin Rawat, to take the proposal forward, albeit with the Army remaining the lead service." He said adding, “We in the Army were taken by surprise by this turn of events, but for the Navy and Air Force, it came like a bolt from the blue."

Naravane explains that he needed some time to clarify to the other Chiefs that his initial proposal had been specific to the Army and that he, too, was taken aback by these unforeseen developments.

Also Read: Agnipath is a game changer scheme for armed forces: Rajnath Singh

“And it took them some time to reconcile with the fact that they were very much part of the new proposal, dubbed the ‘Agnipath’ (Walk of fire) scheme by the PMO, with the soldiers, sailors and airmen recruited under this scheme to be known as 'Agniveers' (Fire Warriors)," he notes.

During the initial talks about 'Agnipath,' Naravane notes that the primary matter for consideration was the retention of inductees. The Army's standpoint was in favour of a 75 per cent retention and 25 per cent release policy.

In contrast, the Department of Military Affairs suggested a 50-50 per cent split, and the proposed term was five years.\

Also Read: After BSF, ex-Agniveers will now get 10% reservation in CISF

PTI reported citing Naravane that this was the model that was presented by the CDS to a full panel comprising "the prime minister, ministers of home, defence and finance, the NSA, service chiefs, PS to the PM and the secretaries of the relevant departments in November 2020."

“In fact, it was during this meeting that the terms 'Agnipath' and 'Agniveer' were used for the first time. Assuming an intake of 50,000 soldiers each year, then after each 'tour', 25,000 soldiers would revert to civil society," he noted.

“It was felt that this was too little to bring about any significant change in the population since one of the aims of the scheme was to give back to society disciplined manpower, who would be in a position to contribute much more in the workplace due to the values and ethos they would have imbibed while in service."

Also Read: Agnipath Scheme: Govt tweaks rules, here's what has changed

Naravane explains that the percentages were subsequently inverted, leading to a decision to retain only 25 per cent and release 75 per cent. This development prompted a reevaluation of the plan, and the next point of discussion revolved around determining the procedures for retention.

“It was taken for granted that this would be like the SSC scheme, with the retention or release after the contracted period of five years. On this account, the PMO view was that there should be a two-step retention process; 50 per cent after three years and another 25 per cent after five years, effectively making it only 25 per cent retention," he says.

‘Four Stars of Destiny’ will hit the stands next month.

“This was just not practical. Six to eight months would go into basic training and deployment, and the process for the selection of personnel to be released would also take about six months, meaning that any given jawan would be effective for just about two years," he adds.

Also Read: Supreme Court dismisses pleas challenging Delhi HC judgment on Agnipath scheme

Naravane mentions that the deliberations continued for an extended period, highlighting a specific challenge faced by the Air Force. For them, the allocated three years proved insufficient to adequately train individuals in the technical skills essential for tasks such as repairs and routine operating and maintenance procedures for sophisticated platforms like aircraft.

“Ultimately, a middle path was agreed upon, a one-step retention after four years of service," he says.

After the introduction of the 'Agnipath' scheme, various regions in India experienced turbulent protests characterized by violence, as demonstrators called for its withdrawal due to the absence of a job guarantee for 75 per cent of the recruits in the new model.

Trains were set on fire, railway tracks blocked and protests were witnessed on Thursday against the new military recruitment system. However, these protests gradually subsided within a few weeks.

Also Read: Agnipath Scheme faces backlash: Protests break out, trains burnt in UP and Bihar

“When India faces threats on two fronts, the uncalled-for Agnipath scheme reduces the operational effectiveness of our armed forces. The BJP govt must stop compromising the dignity, traditions, valour & discipline of our forces," Rahul Gandhi had tweeted.

Bihar and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh saw protests over the recruitment process for railway jobs in January this year, underlining India's persistent unemployment problem.

(With inputs from PTI)

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Published: 20 Dec 2023, 07:30 AM IST
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