The fact that half of the defence budget allocation is being spent on salaries and pension of serving and retired personnel makes it abundantly clear that a reform was imperative.
New Delhi: It is regrettable that the Agnipath scheme meant for selection of jawans as Agniveers for our armed forces is being politicised. As long as it does not compromise with the defence and security of the country, the issue should be left to the policy makers. The fact that half of the defence budget allocation is being spent on salaries and pension of serving and retired personnel makes it abundantly clear that a reform was imperative. Modernisation of the defence forces suffered as a result of funds crunch. This at a time when hostile neighbours continued to strengthen their armies, air force and navy in every possible way.
The three service chiefs have now confirmed that the idea of short-term selection of jawans was mooted more than two decades ago but was not acted upon. The government has now chosen to implement it. This should leave no room for politics in the matter. In other words, political parties indulging in protests are not justified. By doing so, they are only fanning the irate young boys who are destroying public properties such as trains.
The concern of unemployed young boys about their future is understandable. The government must create avenues for them to be absorbed in various sectors like manufacturing, industry, mines, tourism and the sprawling private enterprises. Defence should not be treated merely as an employment opportunity although over the years it has emerged as a major employer. It is professionalism alone that should count in military affairs.
Clearly, the government had two intentions in introducing the Agnipath scheme: creating job opportunities for the restive youth while bringing down galloping defence expenditure on salary and pension. The idea of getting a youthful profile for the armed forces was secondary. Even so, the opposition to the scheme by the angry youth should not be used as a political tool to beat the government. This will be against the national interest.
As Army Vice Chief Lieutenant General B S Raju has stated in an interview to The Indian Express, the Agnipath scheme offers a range of training to the Agniveers which would come handy for them to re-start their career at the end of four years in the armed forces. The government should make the offer more specific in order to assuage their fears.
A possible area to utilise the youth out of short-term military career could be infrastructure creation. Apart from the Centre, the state governments should be roped in to employ them in various development projects like construction of roads and bridges, highways, village-level employment as para teachers and extension workers. This, of course, requires a wider consultation and concurrence.
The government has now issued a veiled threat to deny recruitment to those found indulging in violent protests. This may not succeed necessarily considering that an 18-20-year-old unmarried youth has little at stake for himself.
It is never too late to improve upon the scheme, given the genuine grievances. The government will do well to review it. At the same time, the Opposition parties must stop exploiting the situation for petty gains.
(Devsagar Singh is a senior journalist.)