Behind Agnipath program protest: Temporary work, no pension or sick pay

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hours after Protests broke out in several parts of the country against the short-term Agnipath scheme for the armed forcesAttempting to allay concerns, officials circulated a myth versus fact document to underscore that the new system will not only bring in new skills, but also open up avenues in the private sector and help young men to become entrepreneurs with the help of finance become package.

For those protesting in the streets or watching from the sidelines, the main concerns and uncertainty have to do with the temporary nature of the new system – the service is only valid for four years; pension was cancelled; and there is no lifetime health care for the soldier and his family.

There are also fears many of them may become ineligible – there has been no recruitment since 2020 and to become an Agniveer a contender must be between 17.5 and 21 years old. Late Thursday evening, the government granted a one-off exemption to the upper age limit by raising it to 23 years for 2022.

To date, a soldier has had secure employment for approximately 17 years, and after that the comfort of a pension and access to subsidized health care for himself and his family. In the event that a soldier died in action, the benefits for his family continued.

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The Agnipath program will end these benefits. One of the main but unspoken goals of the program is to cut the armed forces’ rising payroll and pension bills. For this year, the government has allocated over Rs 2.5 crore under these two headings alone out of the Rs 5.25 crore defense budget.

The Agniveers, as the soldiers are known as part of the four-year Agnipath program, are paid for tenure and receive a lump sum of Rs 11.7 lakh at the end of service, which is tax-free. There is no concept of pension or lifetime health benefits.

If an Agniveer dies while on duty, the family will receive Rs 1 crore, including insurance, ex gratia and compensatory salary. But it will be a one-time payout.

However, these benefits apply to those who become part of the armed forces after the four-year period is up. Under the program, all Agniveers will complete their four-year tenure, and then 25 percent of the same pool will be reinstated. They will remain in service for another 15 years and receive pension and healthcare benefits as they exist today.

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However, the rest will be free to pursue other careers, with several ministries and governments announcing they will receive preferences, education credits and qualification certificates to help them with rehabilitation in other fields.

Official sources said the theory that Agniveers will be “unsafe” is a myth. Those who wish to become entrepreneurs, the sources say, will receive a financial package and bank loans, and those who wish to study further “will receive a 12-grade equivalent certificate and a bridge course for further studies.”

For jobseekers, the government has already announced that they will be given priority at the central armed police forces. Some BJP-ruled states have also pledged priority in recruiting police officers. In addition, the government has stated that “several avenues will be opened for them in other sectors as well”.

There are also concerns about how the new recruitment path will align with the previous system based on the Army Recruitable Male Population (RMP) system, which is the proportion of the male population that meets the qualitative recruitment targets set for recruitment, and is about 10 percent of a state’s total male population based on the census.

Sources within the defense services said the modalities of how this would happen were still being worked out. But the sources suggested that the population of the armed forces will represent the country’s population.

Government sources claimed that in the coming years “agniveer recruitment will be about three times what current recruitment in the armed forces is.” But on Tuesday, the day the program was announced, the government said intake will be 46,000 this year and rise to 50,000-60,000 annually over the years.

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