The Agnipath scheme has brought a number of issues to the fore. The Service Headquarters will now need to grapple with the concerns raised in various forums both by commentators in various media and as a result of in-house brainstorming sessions. The issues, which have arisen now revolve around implementation of the scheme and vary from operational issues, training and human resources to include the recruitment procedures and state-wise vacancies and those termed as UHQ enrolment, which gives priority to wards of Servicemen and Ex-Servicemen (ESM), pay and allowances regarding battle casualties, retention of the 25% in a transparent manner and finally the resettlement of the Agniveers.
The first step of course is to understand the concerns by taking inputs from all stakeholders which include the youth aspiring to be part of the scheme, those in uniform and veterans who have the experience and knowledge and thereafter take suitable measures to address the issues.
While there are various issues at an organisational level to include operational, training and to do with motivation and the basic fabric of a unit ethos and way of life; and finally the HR aspects which include recruitment, retention and resettlement.
No doubt reforms are always painful and create turbulence in an existing system but as is being pointed out by Army Headquarters these are a result of numerous studies carried out over the years beginning with the Krishna Rao Study in 1975, the Arun Singh Committee, the Kargil Review Committee, and more lately the Shekatkar Report amongst others. These have amongst other issues talked about the need for the services to have a ‘youthful profile’.
However, several Pay Commissions have addressed this very issue and have talked about lateral absorption, unfortunately, that has not been implemented. The Sixth Pay Commission stated; “The Commission is also of the view that while a good compensation package is essential for the morale and quality of officers and men in the Defence Forces, the same will also, to a large extent, depend on those personnel being provided a life-time career.”
In the 90s, the V CPC realised that India needed to optimise on its security related expenditure through a joint and holistic approach. It realised that burgeoning pensions will be problematic in the future. Accordingly, it recommended 25% reservation in Group ‘C’ and ‘D’ posts in CPOs along with lateral transfer. It also suggested setting up of a Joint Recruitment Board with representatives of CPOs and Armed Force to jointly select officers and men who could laterally shift to CPOs after rendering seven years of service.
According to the VII CPC Report, the Services pressed the case for lateral movement of defence forces personnel into Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and Defence Civil Organisations, pointing the large annual savings, which could accrue by way of saving on recruitment, training and pension payments. Attention was also drawn to similar recommendations of the V CPC, VI CPC and Standing Committee of Defence. The VII CPC noted that recruitment of ESM at various levels was insignificant vis-à-vis others in the CAPFs. It also noted within the Central Government Departments, Central PSUs and Banks, the deployment of ESM was far short of published reservations. The Commission felt that a greater thrust was needed since all ESM, irrespective of the number of years of service and rank, are suitable for lateral movement to these organisations.
This article is, however, focused on the manner in which these Agniveers need to seamlessly transit to a second career after completion of their terms of engagement an issue that has been deliberated and agreed to at the highest levels.
The Vice Chief of the Army Lieutenant General BS Raju has stated that with the new recruitment and retention model the average age of the Army will come down from 32 to 26 years. But will this reform enhance our competitiveness and provide for wider and inclusive participation in the Armed Forces or will there be a greater number of inexperienced personnel in the rank and file of units?
Armed Forces no doubt is a way of life wherein we require a youthful profile of soldiers and as a result the maximum number of people only serve till the age of 35 years. Out of a total of approximately 60,000 retirees each year, up to 45% retire between 35 and 40 years and as a result have unfulfilled responsibilities such as education of their children. There is no doubt that their domestic compulsions are at a peak and they are not able to easily make the transition. However, the reason for the exit at this age is purely driven by the ‘organisational interest’ and not by an ‘individual interest’.
Incidentally, in August 2019, the home ministry issued a directive fixing the retirement age for all CAPF personnel at 60 years in the wake of a January order of the Delhi High Court where it had called the policy of different age of superannuation as “discriminatory and unconstitutional”, and said it created two classes in the uniformed forces.
The fact is that the retiring Servicemen at present are drawing a pension and the increased life expectancy in the country has driven up the pension bill more than the salary bill. The “revenue expenditure” now being greater than “capital expenditure” cuts down on the forces’ expenditure on modernisation. The challenge lies in getting these 30,000 Agniveers who will start retiring four years from now and are not drawing a pension or are eligible for other benefits to include medical suitable jobs.
At present, there are a large number of policies regarding reservation and jobs. However, the first qualification you need is to be an ESM, the current definition was laid down by the Department of Personnel and Training in October 2012. Agniveers are not ESMs. Hence none of the quotas and the social security accorded to the ESM will be applicable. To begin with, Agniveers will have to be included in this definition if they need to be eligible for the reservations which exist for ESMs. This is a matter of detail which can be easily overcome by issuing suitable orders.
However, the issues, which need to be urgently addressed as far as ‘Resettlement’ is concerned lie elsewhere. One issue is recognition of the Services issued Graduation Certificates. Right now, any soldier who is Class 10-12 pass and has served for 15 years or more is considered a graduate for all reservation vacancies as per a DoPT circular. While this is accepted by those agencies governed by DoPT rules, it does not have a universal acceptance. Hence, it is imperative that all certificates issued by the Army both for Agniveers and other retiring personnel be recognised by the appropriate authority in the Ministry of Education and the UGC. There needs to be a wider Acceptance of Army Graduation Cert.
Possessing of an NCVT Certificate was made mandatory for employment in technical posts in Central Public Sector Undertakings (CPCUs). A soldier is not aware which skill certificate will get him a job at place of his resettlement, he, therefore, needs to be exempted from possession of such a Certificate or in Service Courses be recognised by NCVT. In the long-run, if skill certification and placements are to be ensured, in-service training will have to be certified and linked to jobs post retirement. Another issue is that the skills acquired under the ‘Skill India’ need to be incorporated into the rules for recruitment by government agencies.
The major issue pertains to reservation per se. Reservation for ESM in Central government posts are based on 10% direct recruitment posts up to the level of Assistant Commandant in CAPF, the only group A reservation. There is a 10% reservation for direct recruitment posts in Group ‘C’ and a 20% direct recruitment posts in Group ‘D’ in Central government ministries. This includes 4 % for disabled ESM and dependents of those killed in action.
In the Central Public Sector Enterprise, it is 14.5% in Group ‘C’ Posts and 24.5% in Group ‘D’ posts including 4% for Disabled ESM and dependents of those killed in action. In nationalised banks, it is 14.5% in Group ‘C’ posts and 24.5% in Group ‘D’ posts. However, in the 6 CPC, a large number of Group D posts were abolished and upgraded to Group C and some Group C to Group B, but there has been no upward revision in vacancies.
However, the fact is that these are largely unfilled and in some cases up to the extent of over 90%. The reasons are to avail of the reservation an individual has to first qualify as per the educational and other standards laid down for the job. Most of the non-technical jobs are based on a competitive exam and without professional coaching it becomes very difficult for an ESM to qualify.
The next issue is that these reservations are not vertical in nature but are horizontal. Assuming there are hundreds of vacancies and there is a 10% reservation for ESMs that would imply that 10 would get the job. This is called vertical reservation and is applicable for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and General Candidates as per the current government policies. Horizontal vacancies imply that the 10% reservation for ESM be given within each of these categories hence, 10% of Scheduled Caste vacancies are allotted to ESM and so on. In other words, horizontal reservation cuts across vertical reservation in what is called interlocking reservation. The reservation must be vertical in nature.
An exercise is regularly carried out by the Director General Resettlement — the nodal agency responsible for identifying the requisite number of vacancies of ESM as per the authorised strength and ascertain the present position. However, unless these reservations are monitored by regulatory bodies and there is an ESM commission on lines of other similar Commissions, these will continue to remain promises on paper.
Most states also provide reservations in government jobs but they vary from state to state and is based on the rehabilitation policy of the concerned state and the total ESM population domiciled in that state. There are only four states / Union Territories; Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka and Chandigarh, which have reservations in all Groups from ‘A’ to ’D’ while there are some that have none.
A research by Kannur University on ‘Manpower Utilisation of Ex-Servicemen in Kerala’, which is one of the first such studies undertaken in the state, reveals ESM are mostly under-utilised especially in their most productive ages, as they are not being properly managed by the Centre and the state.
There have been announcements made of quotas by various ministers in CAPFs, defence PSU’s and in other ministries as also a number of commitments by industrialists. But are these afterthoughts or a mere reiteration of existing reservations for ESM which have mainly remained vacant. I am reminded of a line from the’ Leopard’ by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa – “thought up at the spur of the moment, understood by few and convincing none, but consoling all”.
There is thus a need to analyse the factors that play a significant role in shaping of the second career of ESM and its congruence with skill development programmes in India to ensure a seamless transition.
No doubt there exists an inevitable necessity to look beyond just providing ESM with post-retirement careers, but explore ways in which their specific skill sets, experience and knowledge can be harnessed to add value in the nation building. These personnel constitute a very valuable disciplined, well-trained and dedicated talented pool, which should be utilised.
Both the Directorate General of Resettlement and the Army Welfare Placement Organisation and similar bodies of the other two services need to seriously look at the issue of educating, skilling and providing suitable resettlement opportunities for them. The answer cannot lie in placing the majority as security guards. Various stakeholders and the policy-makers need to be sensitised towards the national cause of resettlement of Agniveers and ESMs.
The author is an Army veteran. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication
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