To reduce the high wage and pension costs, India introduced a new program named “Agnipath” on June 14, 2022, to recruit soldiers in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, primarily on a short-term contractual basis. This recruitment program would allow young people between the ages of 17 and 21 to join the Indian armed services.
25% of the recruits will be kept on for regular duty after the four-year commitment. The newcomers will be known as “Agniveers.” The Agniveers would receive a monthly wage between Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000, and 75% of them will receive a “Seva Nidhi ” exit package worth Rs 11.7 lakh when they are demobilized after four years.
Reasons for Protests against Agnipath Scheme
The “Agniveers” under the Agnipath program must register under their respective Service Acts. Upon completion of their 4-year service, each young person will receive a one-time package worth Rs. 11.71 lakh. The program does not provide gratuities or pension benefits. Since the Center intends to absorb only 25% of the “Agniveers” when their 4-year tenure is over, those protesting have stated that the new structure inhibits their claim for financial advantages, such as pensions. Youth protesting claims that after completing the required four years under the system, they will be left in the cold with no retirement benefits.
This, together with the brief job tenure, has sparked significant outrage among young people. Most protesters believe that joining the Army for four years is unreasonable and that people who leave the service after four years will face an uncertain future. The length of the training program and whether recruits will be as motivated as soldiers on permanent rolls have also been questioned.
Agitators are also calling on the government to increase the upper age limit because several of them have already reached the current upper age limit of 23 due to the pandemic’s two-year suspension of defense recruitment. Additionally, the idea is that young people sometimes spend years preparing with the NCC before joining the Army. Then only serving for four years before having to reorient themselves to the requirements of a different career when they are about to turn 30 did not sit well with the aspirants.
Criticisms of the Agnipath Scheme
According to experts, the initiative was a political decision in anticipation of the forthcoming state elections and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, not a creation of the armed services. The unemployment issue has not been resolved; instead, it has been postponed for four years. In addition, the Modi administration appears to be using the employment crisis as a significant campaign issue in the run-up to his next election. A deadline of 18 months, which would conclude just four months before the next general elections in 2024, was set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week to hire 10 lakh workers in various departments and ministries.
Effects of the Protests on the Economy
Any violent protest impacts the economics of a nation. 500+ trains have been canceled, causing the railway department to incur high costs. Roads have been blocked in various regions of the country such as Rajasthan. Public property was damaged during the Agneepath protests. In many Indian states, trains were set on fire, and rails were destroyed. Many police officers also suffered injuries. The Bharat Bandh has caused many workers to be inconvenienced. Attacks have also been made against party executives’ homes.
The government has made several revisions to the plan in response to the continued protests and youth confusion. Due to hiring difficulties due to the pandemic, the maximum age limit has now been raised to 23 exclusively for this year. Additionally, the proposal to reserve 10% of the open positions in the Ministry of Defense was approved. Amit Shah, a minister in the Union, also declared that his department would give “Agniveers” who had finished their four years priority.