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‘Agniveer’ scheme and cues for bureaucratic revamp
The corridors of power in India launched a new scheme “ Aganiveer” on 14th of June 2022. The scheme is a major defence policy reform in the Human Resource Policy of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. It is stated to be unique in its recruitment process aimed at changing complexion of Indian army by recruiting and replenishing a young workforce of men and women in the age group of 17-22 every 5th year . The free buys generated for the country and the government being periodical job generation , availability of a trained & disciplined and ‘raring to go’ segment of workforce . The average age as of now, of an infantry man being 35-36 compared to …….
However , any change especially made by government in India , more often than not, meets with endless resistance. Of course, these days , in no time , ‘more than ‘needed publicity and mass support from various interest groups and pro people , becomes so easily available , thanks to Social media . And then , there are disgruntled and opportunist political elements, sitting in ever readiness to add fuel to the fire . While popular media sitting so hungry for TRP and 24*7 fanning the popular sentiments by engaged in raging debate and post- mortem the subject more often than not , beyond its recognition.
The scheme which is being called a Tour on Duty or TOD has precedent in thirty countries of the world, albeit in different forms . Out of these thirty , ten countries have it for a compulsory service in army by its citizens. These include China, Israel, Sweden, Ukraine, Norway, North Korea, Morocco, Cape Verde, Chad, Eritrea.
It’s this TOD complexion given to the scheme that is incurring adverse reaction from certain section of youth . Those questioning and suspecting TOD elements of the scheme are mainly raising issues of youth being left in lurch after four years . Instability in forces , shortage of skilled men power, wastage of training and other resources leaving 75 % of those on TOD almost clueless and producing mercenaries and leaving them on loose in society , while militarization of society are some of the points of concern to those opposing the Scheme.
However , when looked at and evaluated from broader national perspective , everyone involved seems to be a better off : the Soldier , the Service and the Society .
To begin with candidates, who otherwise after 10th or 12th standard, may be compelled to go for their paid education , may by enrolling in this scheme , would get free Certificate or Degrees with well-crafted ‘hands on training’ and exposure. The thrill and adventure one may get besides the pride one may have in serving the nation, are unparallel perks on offer . The candidates , post TOD , may have better employment opportunities in certain fields like para military , security and administration eamong others due to soft skills like communication , discipline , flexibility team work , adaptability , dependability , work ethic and integrity they may acquire and that too at such a young age . This is not withstanding the pay and perks including attractive post quitting Sewa Nidhi package . And , last not least , 25 % of them , may get absorbed in the service .
Of course, there may be certain challenges for those 75 % who will be made to call it a quit after 4 years . It will be more so , when it comes to adapting from Military Ethics to Civilian Ethic of living and working . The regimentation , strict chain of command and complete unwavering obedience are the mainstay in Military ,while the competition , continuous question , playing devil’s advocate , thinking out of box are considered to be virtues in Corporate life or in most private organization . Surely , this transition may not come easy to them . Therefore , it will be a desirable policy imperative to set up an institutional Military Transition assistance and career help for smooth changeover .
As for the forces , they may acquire a very youthful and dynamic profile . It is envisaged that the average age profile of the Indian Armed forces would come down by about 4-5 years by the implementation of this scheme. Make the armed forces much leaner and younger: For India’s over 13-lakh strong armed forces, the current average age profile is 32 years. It is envisaged that it will come down by about 4-5 years by implementation of this scheme. A youthful armed forces will allow them to be easily trained for new technologies. Reduce the ever swelling defence pension bill which in 2022-23 stands at Rs 1,19,696 crore which is about 30% of the rest of the defence budget .
Availability of well-disciplined and skilled youth with military ethos in civil society. Country gets a constant supply of “future-ready” soldiers. Though , certain critics believe that the idea of having soldiers for such a short duration doesn’t tally with the cost of training The Navy spends around Rs 27 lakh per cadet, the IAF 039 lakh and the Army close to Rs16 lakh. Though , it will now be for a shorter period , yet can be the basic requirements and standards of training be done away with ? A senior officer from concerned corridors of power said: “While the entire exercise is aimed to reduce cost (pension and salary bill), letting trained soldiers go after spending a massive amount on their training does not make any sense.” But , it makes sense when a wholistic view and not the partial or truncated view is the taken in the matter .
However , the outrage against the scheme which is being seen is also not to be undermined . At the core of the outrage is the angst and expectations and hopes harboured by those young men and women who dreamt of army service. However, their dreams got placed on back burner for last 3 years due to Covid and halting of recruitment in Army. In nutshell , it’s not about the scheme but about the timings and the manner in which it being implemented.
A good public policy design involves a minimum of four steps : 1. Problem setting which among other things include mapping stakeholders and opinion ; 2.Policy formulation by defining relevant strategies , defining possible actions , calculating impacts ; 3.Scenario analysis and 4. Decision . In the instant case , the policy makers didn’t seem to have done a very thorough job at mapping the stakeholders especially the probable candidates and their opinions. Also , at the policy formulation stage , calculating impacts also seems to have been given a miss . Also the timings of the announcement of the scheme were perhaps not that good especially when the country is recovering from the adverse socio economic impact of Covid . And the employment figures are not that encouraging .
In the realm of policy , it always calls for testing through a pilot before a major intervention is done . In the instant case too , it would have been a desirable proposition .
Nevertheless , the scheme has not been modified to accommodate some aspirations of those raging and resisting ; and the recruitment exercise has also been started , its only , the time will tell , how it fared .
When seen from National perspective , it surely, it is a win-win scheme which needs to be implemented wholeheartedly , in most transparent fashion . As a matter of fact , it’s high time that it is replicated in other areas like Police Services , Forest Services , in Universities and colleges and in different rungs of bureaucracy especially in Group A to catch them young and unpolluted and bring in young blood and fresh perspective besides UpToDate skill sets like Data Sciences , Business Analyses , Artificial intelligence , Coding , Block Chain , Machine Learning , Emotional Intelligence and so on and so forth . A Quick survey of Indian bureaucracy will reveal as to how much it lacks in all these skill sets, most of them having been erstwhile Anthropology or Sanskrit of Hindi or Social Science undergraduates with exception of a very few Engineers and doctors . Is somebody listening ?
On the hind side
There are also those who feel that the scheme would lead to demotivated soldiers and could even produce mercenaries.
Though , it’s beyond the call of common sense as to how one could even think along these lines in today’s time .
We visualize any country through the boundaries it has. As it happens, several times, there are differences on boundary delineation with country on other side. These issues are usually legacy issues. Notwithstanding these differences, India has been managing the borders affairs thus preventing matters to precipitate. The Border management is done both internally within India as well externally with the neighbor on other side. In external management of Border we have mechanisms to engage with the respective neighbor.
Our Ambassador to China in his virtual address at MP-IDSA and Sichuan University Virtual Dialogue on 23rd Sept 2021 --(https://www.eoibeijing.gov.in/eoibejing_list/MTE) has made distinction between resolving boundary demarcation and managing border affairs on daily basis. He further states that China has tried to blur this sacred distinction and thus break the rules.
The address also deliberates on other macro issues thus developing very accurate and realistic perspectives of complete architecture of our relations and engagements with China.
The term 'Border Management' has been often used loosely and casually. However the subject of BM per say is very critical as it encompasses several areas of national importance like border security, people residing at the borders etc.
BM is a comprehensive term signifying the inclusiveness of all issues into this terminology.
Its sum total of all relevant issues.
As there are several stakeholders in BM it is all the more important to take up study of the comprehensive subject. All concerned must have the same broad understanding of the subject then only the issues of BM could be better understood.
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The necessity of Think Tank in the space of ToT and BM is need of the hour. If we see the Policy making structure there is nothing specifically dedicated to these two fields. The article https://theprint.in/india/governance/more-visible-vocal-indias-homegrown-think-tanks-are-booming-influencing-debate-policy/690989/ by Sanya Dhingra and Nayanima Basu published in The Print dated 21st July 2021, has very aptly brought out the growing role and necessity of Think Tanks and how it can fill the voids in our knowledge gaps specially seen in keeping pace with fast paced developments in all spheres.
There is lack of comprehensive policy in these fields. The specialisation is increasing day by day due to rapid technological advances and technological leapfrogging in these areas like New age Technologies, smarter and bolder methods of Border violations and crimes, continuously evolving and improving capabilities of our adversaries, better material Technologies etc.
The present policy ( at the macro and micro levels) framework is not sufficient to enable us to meet the new challenges effectively. More specific insights are required into issues of relevance. The present system of handling actions in these fields needs to be strengthened through specialized policy inputs. Nothing is more self explanatory in this regards than the Quote from the linked article –"However, a number of factors, including India’s expanding global footprint, the need for specialization in governance, the acknowledgement that career bureaucracy may not have answers to complex 21st-century governance questions, and the private sector taking baby steps into this growing business of ideas, have come together to particularly stoke their rise in the last decade or so”.
It is in this perspective the SAPI would endeavor to create awareness and sensitise relevant stakeholders to work in these two areas in comprehensive, cohesive and focused manner.
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