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Army Veterans Slam Central Government's Agnipath Scheme

One army veteran said that the armed forces shouldn't be looked at from an economic point of view by the exchequer.

Army veterans have spoken out against the Central government's Agnipath scheme, aimed at hiring soldiers under a Tour of Duty programme. Under this scheme, only 25% of those hired would be retained after the completion of four years, while the rest would be demobilised without any gratuity or pension. Defence minister Rajanth Singh had announced the scheme on Tuesday, June 14, after a cabinet committee on security had cleared it.

In a surprising reaction, the government's poster-boy among retired army generals, Major General G.D. Bakshi (retd.) lambasted the scheme, calling it an "across the board change to convert Indian armed forces to a short tenure quasi-conscript force like the Chinese."

Along similar lines, BN Sharma, former chief instructor, BSF Academy, tweeted, “To me, Agnipath scheme looks like a scheme for any newly launched security agency; assuring contract for 4 years & extension of the contract for only 25%. How is Agnipath seen so differently by serving & veterans for benefits & disadvantages?”

Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia, former Director-General, Military Operation, told a media channel that this wasn't the risk he would have taken as it could change the defence forces' ethos.

Lieutenant General Raj Kadyan, former Vice Chief of the Army Staff, had already raised his opposition against the move when he was in service, saying that this kind of scheme is fit for a low-risk organisation.

"We are trying it out in the defence forces, where the risk is very high…. I only hope and pray there is no war. If there’s [going to be a] war, you don’t expect a man who is already looking beyond four years to be committed to the extent that he can lay down his life,” he said.

Other veterans privately said that the "very concept of Tour of Duty has not been tested in India and, hence, it should have been tried out as a small project initially." They also worry that unabsorbed soldiers may find it difficult to get a job, as has been the trend with ex-servicemen.

The government defended the move by claiming that it is aimed at decreasing the average age of soldiers. However, Anil Tawar, a former Army officer, highlighted how the scheme looks like an exchequer's solution, "kicked down the road to the regiments and units." Major General Yash Mor (retd.) also highlighted the same issue in a tweet, saying that armed forces shouldn't be looked at from an economic point of view.

"Military life and career can’t be evaluated from money saved to the exchequer. Looking to be difficult to implement the scheme, with negative connotations in all aspects,” his tweet read.

Since it has been announced on June 14, the scheme has seen protests from unemployed youths across the country, who demand that it must be immediately scrapped.

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