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The government pushes its agenda The Excelsior 27 May 2022
Service HQs are currently concentrating on countering the proposed Tour of Duty (TOD) scheme as also manpower reduction demands pushed by the government. In case the TOD is thrust down, then the forces need to minimize shortcomings and obtain the best from the worst. The TOD is basically a fake populist scheme, dreamt by the government, to project additional employment opportunities, for rural masses, though for a short period of 3-5 years, solely for political mileage, ignoring realism in national security and its aftereffects on those who join (Agniveers).
There are some advantages, which include a reduced age profile within the forces, possible national disciplined manpower and better Jawan-NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) ratio, but do they outweigh multiple disadvantages which flow? Disciplined national manpower can also result from enlarging NCC to villages. Currently discussions between service HQs and the government (PMO) are continuing.
The navy and the air force have major concerns on TOD. They need technicians and most of their manpower comprises of a largely specialist cadre. They cannot expend budgets in continuously training inductees as majority they train are dumped on the civvy street within 5 years. If Agniveers serve for five or more years, they would be entitled to a discharge package, which the government is unwilling to provide. The army has problems, more linked to regimentation and cohesion at grassroot levels, as also fielding a conscript army. Simultaneously, a short service tenure implies the individual begins concentrating on his next career as soon as he completes his basic training.
If Agniveers are not suitably readjusted, it would result in trained soldiers being back on the streets after three-four years, struggling to survive, with no additional qualifications. His quality of life would drastically change, enhance uncertainty resulting in frustration, depression and anxiety, compelling him to choose unlawful avenues to sustain himself or take extreme steps. All he would have left are memories. The money spent on training would be wasted only because the government is desperate to save on pensions.
Like with Short Service Officers, the supreme court would, at some stage, step in and pass directions that they be provided free medical (ECHS) and canteen (CSD) services for life. Numbers retiring, including family members and dependents, joining facilities already under financial strain would necessitate additional investment, which the government would be loath to provide, adding to disgruntlement across the board.
The transfer of Agniveers to the CAPFs would be ideal but is being rejected on flimsy grounds. In 2013, the reason given by CAPFs for not accepting army retirees were age factor, carrying rank from the forces to the CAPFs, upsetting existing structures, as also that ‘soldiers are trained to apply excessive force,’ when dealing with law-and-order issues as compared to the CAPFs who are taught to apply a softer touch.
However, CAPFs forget that the soft touch fails once too often, and army presence is requested. These objections continue even today against Agniveers, despite the fact that the issue of age is irrelevant as the individual has had only three years’ service. Further, all he would need would be a reorientation capsule and not basic training, which could be cost cutting. Reorientation could involve changing the ‘hard approach’ to a ‘softer touch.’ Realistically, their rejecting the proposal is more on ego rather than logic.
Officially, as per an agreement, arrived at in 2012-13, the CAPFs are mandated to induct 10% of their recruitment from armed forces retirees. This was announced by the then defence minister, AK Anthony, in parliament in early 2013. No inputs on whether this is being implemented in full or part is available at any level. Nor are inputs known on similar recruitments into other central government organizations and state police forces, also part of the same scheme. If government institutions and organizations are directed to enhance quotas, and intakes monitored by a central body, suitable sidestepping could be possible for those completing their TOD, bringing some reality into a fake propaganda scheme. It would also protect our youth from going astray.
Surprising that the PMO, with all its power, has been unable to convince its own Home Ministry to consider benefits accruing from sidestepping into CAPFs, while it bulldozes its way over the armed forces. Another example of government departments working in silos. Wonder if the government has also done a life cycle cost of a soldier released with 3 years’ service prior to pushing its scheme.
The government also claims that post the armed forces the scheme could also be implemented in the CAPFs. This appears illogical as those who joined the CAPFs, after 2004, are governed by the New Pension Scheme, wherein they contribute towards their own pensions. No government is foolhardy enough to have all its security organizations discarding 25-50% manpower every year. Hence, TOD will remain solely for the armed forces.
One of the reasons possibly for the current non-recruitment, apart from COVID, is that the government seeks to reduce the strength of defence forces by 10-15%, thus cutting salaries and pensions. Rather than discuss desired strength and where services can implement reduction, the government has taken a bullish view and stopped recruitment, while retirements continue. This may remain in place till their planned magical figures are reached. This across-the-board reduction impacts units deployed along the LAC and LOC.
The government, which should be pushing employment, especially post COVID loss of jobs, is stalling it, desperate to push its agenda by any means. It has till date refused to share the truth of why recruitment is stopped to the national public. Millions would have crossed the desired age only because the government is being adamant, guided by those with no responsibility towards national security nor welfare of youth.
By the time these magical figures are achieved the TOD scheme would have been bulldozed. Since it is a populist scheme, the PM may announce it from the ramparts of the Red Fort during his address on Independence Day. Whether legal and financial aspects would have been fully assessed by then is unknown. It might be a repeat of the creation of the CDS, where the PM announced the decision with fanfare and post the untimely demise of General Bipin Rawat, it is reassessing this very concept.
India’s story has always been that if desired by the political leadership, no matter what the shortcomings, proposed schemes must be implemented. Being a democracy, the armed forces can never blame the political leadership, however, will continue to fight legal and other drawbacks for years and try and make the best of an illogical and ill-conceived concept.