As per reports the government is set to finalise the ‘Agnipath’ nee ‘Tour of Duty’ recruitment scheme, under which youth can enlist in the Army for three /five years and be known as ‘Agnivirs’. It is being envisaged that 25% of them would serve for three years and 25% for five years, the remaining 50% would serve for the full term till they reach the retirement age. This major reform is expected to significantly reduce the age profile of the Armed forces. This reform will also result in significant reduction of pensions. It will curb the ballooning salary and pension bills that are adversely impacting military modernization. Under this arrangement, after completing 3 or 5 years of service, the Army will help the soldier/officer to be recruited in other services. The soldiers would be given a pay-out along with priority in recruitment to certain government jobs, including the central armed police forces. An effort is also on to nudge corporate India into hiring such ex-ToD recruits for specific lines of work in the private sector on a priority basis. As per reports, the final orders are expected to be issued shortly.
I remember that the current COAS had made this proposal for officers and had also released a video on this issue. That original idea has been now enlarged all of a sudden to encompass the 12 lakh strong Army and eventually will extend to the Navy and Air Force. Prima facie the proposal looks appealing. All the goodies to the system have been laid out on paper. However one has to think. If all problems of the Armed Forces could be solved so easily, then life would have been so easy. In any HR proposal regarding the Armed Forces, there are three issues which need to be considered – financial impact, administrative feasibility and operational fall out. In this case the financial impact has been worked out well. I will highlight major administrative issues and throw up a few operational issues.
The macro administrative issue is that eventually, the 12 lakh strong Army will have 50 % full time regulars (6 lakhs), 25% soldiers serving for 5 years (3 lakhs) and 25% soldiers for three years (3 lakhs). This has a major impact on Recruitment, Training and Discharge – turnovers and capacities. The devil is always in the detail and mathematics reveals it. Hence I will resort to modelling and looking at the numbers. For the purpose of modelling, the mandatory pensionable service is being taken as 15 years. In the current conditions, 100% of Army personnel go through one cycle of Recruitment, Training and Discharge for which capacities are sanctioned and exist. If the new ToD model as proposed is to be implemented , then one cycle is required for 50% of the army personnel who will put in 15 years full service. Three cycles will be required for 25% of the Army who will serve for 5 years. Five cycles will be required for 25% of the Army who will serve for 3 years. Overall there will be nine cycles of training required. Overall capacity will have to be increased by 250% or two and a half times the current capacities as calculated and illustrated in the model below.
The annual intake into the Army is approximately about 75 thousand soldiers per year, give or take 10%. It will increase to about 2-2.25 lakhs per year as per this model. In turn, it will result in a skewed intake and recruitment model. Why so? The simple reason is that from many parts of the country we do not get adequate numbers even in the current conditions. If the recruitment goes up by 2.5 the times the intake will increase disproportionately from certain states/areas. This has huge ramifications for the overall structure and social balance of the Army. The other major problem is the capacity to carry out recruitment of the required numbers needs examination. That will be a major challenge in itself. Recruitment staff has to be multiplied manifold. I have only outlined the macro problems and not highlighted the seamier details and pitfalls.
The next mega problem is training. Every recruit has to be trained for 44 weeks. Basic recruit training is carried out in training centres. These training centres have been developed over seven decades since independence, to their present capacities. Even at present, the current capacities fall far short to train recruits. I will highlight with the Artillery example since I remember the numbers and the problems associated. For instance, each of the recruit training centre of Artillery have a sanctioned capacity of about 2000 recruits.. However, each of the Centres used to invariably train about 2500-3000 recruits at any given time. This is because the training centres were not increased in capacity, in step, with the expansion of the Army over a period of time, for a variety of reasons. This strength goes up to about 4000 plus in peak times as per my experience. In essence, training centres were/are functioning and training recruits at 1.5 -2 times their sanctioned capacities already. This invariably leads to hygiene and sanitation problems. Lack of proper habitat often results in out breaks of diseases like chicken pox. Recruits had to start lining up for morning ablutions at unearthly hours. Expecting to train 2.5 times the current numbers within existing suboptimal capacities needs a reality check which starts at the toilets. If the fundamentals are not paid attention to, it will be catastrophe. The real requirement will be about 4 times the current capacity. Just imagine trying to upscale capacities to 2.5- 4 times in the next three years, when we have barely been able to cope up with existing requirements for the past 70 years. Infrastructure development involves, land acquisition, planning and execution of major works programme, provision of equipment, etc etc. This is only basic training. Add specialist training and advanced training of soldiers at respective Colleges and Schools. Where do you get trainers for these enhanced numbers? Have we trained the trainers? The sense one clearly gets is that the announcement made does not stand up to administrative diligence in terms of resource, finances and effort . Are kites being flown from flimsy paper?
In order to be realistic I examined a model where 10% of the soldiers in the Army serve for three years as proposed by the government. Even in this case, the required increase in capacities is 40%. A model where 10% of the soldiers serve for five years also implies increase in capacities by 20 % as shown above. Taking into consideration all issues , interests and system capacities into consideration, a turnover of up to 5% each in a three year and five years’ service model is the maximum that can be attempted. One has also to remember that three years enrolment means only two/four years effective service after 44 weeks of training. The entire proposal needs full commitment from the government to straighten out all the hidden angles, which will come out, if grass root issues are considered and taken heed of.
View it from any angle, this is a fundamental change which is being attempted. Whilst doing this fundamental change, the operational issues must be factored in. The poor performance of the Russian Army in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict is largely attributed to their poor training, low level of morale, lack of camaraderie and team spirit. This has come out clearly. This should ring alarm bells for the authors of ‘Agnipath’. Young soldiers need to be part of a team where experience will shield and guide them through. Otherwise they will be huge causalities in war. Armed forces will not achieve national objectives. It will be a national disgrace. Just populating the rank and file with young soldiers to reduce age profiles will not achieve results. Lt Gen Prakash Menon in his article ‘Agnipath’ scheme for military has good intentions. But Modi govt should conduct trials first @ https://theprint.in/opinion/agnipath-scheme-for-military-has-good-intentions-but-modi-govt-should-conduct-trials-first/912595/ and Lt Col Manoj Chanan in his article The Agnipath of Agniveers- Tour of duty @ https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/the-agnipath-of-agniveers-tour-of-duty/2487189/ give out detailed logic as to why there is an operational danger in attempting this change at the scale envisaged. All I will add is that the resultant turnover and churn at the bottom is something that the units cannot handle. Operational effectiveness will suffer severely. If over and above this, it is expected that a ACR system and a merit based system will be introduced for selecting soldiers for retention in service as reported in media, then we are living in fantasy. Presently there is no ACR written on a soldier till he becomes a lance naik. Is this not known? Hence the onus and burden of selection, axing and execution is being transferred to the CO of a unit. It is poor leadership if the Generals offload this burden to the Commanding Officer. We will then not be empowering the CO to fight wars. Those at the Service HQs need a rethink. If this is not intended why are such reports floating around?
It has been said that all these young well trained soldiers will add to the society and be transferred into the Government or CAPFs or be sent into the Corporate sector. Even with the present lot of soldiers who retire, the Government has not been able to side step them into CAPFs/Other Government Services. Unless it is mandated by government order this envisaged side stepping will not happen. Has any work been done on that? Have the orders been given to CAPFs to stop recruitment? Leaving it to the Army to find solutions to this problem is a non-starter. This is a national problem and not the problem of the Army or MOD alone. Has the cabinet owned this proposal. Nothing in the press indicates so. Think of this problem differently. If a person is trained by the Army between 18-20 years of age and is left into society without a job after three to five years of service, imagine the outcomes. A militarised youth without a job at 21-25 years of age and with no great prospects is a danger to society. To put it in perspective, when I was a brigade commander in the North East, I was approached by many locals to train and prepare youth for recruitment into the Army. I was enthusiastic about it till I was gently told by a wise officer that if the youth does not make the grade for the Army, he will be a readymade candidate for absorption into insurgent outfits.
As far as corporate India is concerned, I am not the only one who is sceptical about the outcomes. The views of a retired General Officer who I have always respected for his balance are that; after three years ToD, job availability for these boys exiting the Service will be as under :-
Communication expert ( Runner)
Document manager ( Peon)
Security expert ( Security guard)
Aerobic Maintenance Expert ( Gym eqpt saaf safaiwala)
Floor manager ( handler of cleanliness eqpt like swabs,brooms, detergents)
Service Executive (handy man)
Overall, the views of the veteran community is that, such wholesale changes need to be approached with care. The ultimate acid test is – how does it affect the fighting capability of the unit? I am afraid the ToD proposal does not pass the test at this stage. However, it should not be thrown out of the window. There are merits in the proposal. The trick is to see how to make it a success. It will be far better to run a trial and then expand it. In all this, I do hope the Services are in kept in the loop and not excluded by our great bureaucracy.
Let me finish off with an example to drive home the point. A new system of centralised pension disbursal has been started by the PCDA called the SPARSH a few months back. All veterans are under migration to it as I understand. It has been three months since I have received a pension slip. I do not know whom to contact. The SPARSH website shows me nothing more than my personal details. Earlier I used to go to the local bank manager who used to sort out all issues for me. Now I am on a limb. I am a retired Lieutenant General. If this is my status what will be the plight of rank and file? I am sure that this dysfunctional system was started with a lot of fanfare as a great reform some time back. We are suffering for it. Some might call it teething troubles. To me it seems an unwanted headache of an empire building exercise by someone in the MOD. It is ok if I suffer. I am only an individual. The ToD system should not put the nation in a predicament as I am. We should not get our teeth knocked out on the LOC/LAC and then say it was due to the teething troubles of ‘Agnipath’.
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