Veteran services

Agniveer: An Army Veteran’s Detailed Argument Against the Agnipath Plan – Part 1

By Lieutenant General Prakash Katoch

The theatrics of the June 14 Tour of Duty (ToD) press conference at the National Media Center was fun. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh looked smug as he watched the visibly uncomfortable department heads read prepared statements. The army chief even had written answers to questions posed by the public. He also spoke last although the military got the maximum ToD import.

Rajnath seemed optimistic with the ToD poised to overwhelm the military; he would remain in charge even as ‘Marg Darshak’ after 2024. Defense Secretary Ajay Kumar has not uttered a word or answered questions with his tenure extended, expanding the bureaucratic empire and having pushed through ToD to its full extent instead of the pilot project it was meant to be. Lt. Gen. Anil Puri of the DMA kept showing pictures of life in the armed forces (well known to young people and the media) to give credence to what he presented.

When asked if six months’ training would be enough for ToD, the Navy Chief replied that ToD inductees would be trained on one ship for two years and on another ship for two years. The other two chefs thought it best to stay mum. Responding to another question, the army chief confirmed that all army units would be manned all over India. When asked if this meant that the regimental system of the army was going to end, he replied that it would, but not immediately.

The government’s intention is to kill off the regimental system of the army, which is the foundation of gun fighting and camaraderie; ‘Naam, Namak aur Nishan; be sacrificed by the virulent application of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. So what will the fixed class regiments be called like, for example, the Rajput regiment, the Gorkha regiment, the Sikh regiment? Will they be assigned numbers with army police-ization or will they be renamed as “Savarkar Regiment”, “Mangal Pandey Regiment”, “Deen Dayal Upadhyay Regiment” as discussed on WhatsApp?

Was this public relations exercise necessary when the media was already inundated with glowing articles giving full details of the program based on documents distributed by the government and the military to “select” writers – veterans included? Ironically, these 2-3 star veterans praised the meager ToD package while enjoying their own pension and benefits. The same cronies had helped cover up PLA intrusions into Ladakh in 2020.

Before the ToD’s announcement, there were deafening rumors about the huge defense pension budget, which once again flooded the media after anti-ToD youth protests after the June 14 press conference. But those who mourn over defense pensions are deliberately not questioning spending on Group “A” Services and civilian defense employees, issues such as:

· They have much faster promotions and benefit from the Non-Functional Upgrade Allowance (NFU). All retire in the HAG / HAG + grade, then benefiting from a rank, a pension (OROP).

· The above, combined with all who serve until about age 60, the expenditure on them is huge (both in service and in retirement), which is kept secret.

· Around 45% of the defense pension bill still goes to civilian defense employees.

Those under the National Pension Scheme (NPS) would receive 15% extra pay while in service and a lump sum upon retirement, which is far more than soldiers earn in service because they retire several years older early.

· Each of the seven lakh serving civilian defense employees is five times more expensive than its uniformed counterpart.

· Even civilians from the Ministry of Finance (MoF) seconded to the Minister of Defense (MoD) are paid from the defense budget (salary and pension) – why?

Despite periodic announcements by the government not to run out of funds for the military, defense budgets remained negative in real terms until China kicked off 2020. defense allowed the mafia to shout more about defense pensions obscuring civil defense spending. employees, as explained above. Group “A” services, Civil Defense employees, and the CAPF receive significantly more money by serving for longer periods of time. But the government loves soldiers fighting in inhospitable areas, facing risks and begging to support their families, educate their children and struggling to fend for themselves in their old age.

In the case of the OROP for the Armed Forces, the promise to review the OROP every year was buried by Defense Minister Arun Jaitley, saying that everything said in the run-up to the election was not was not held. The government appointee Judge Reddy’s Commission report on OROP was deliberately put in the freezer. As for the government’s promise to review pensions from July 2019, the Ministry of Defense has again asked for more time, which could last until eternity.

How was ToD initiated?

In his article “Tour of Duty – A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come”, Commander KP Sanjeev Kumar, a former naval experimental test pilot, wrote that if the Indian Army and the MoD are successful, the ToD will soon become a reality. He explains why ToD is a “bad idea” but what he said about the military and the MoD is 100% true.

How General Bipin Rawat became Army Chief then CDS, what CDS and DMA really are and why army recruitment was stopped two years ago was explained in these columns earlier (https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/cds-the-bonded-hombre/2553329/). Rawat was the first army leader to be awarded the PVSM for “services” as a leader.

General M. M. Naravane took over as Chief of Army from Rawat on December 31, 2019, with Rawat becoming CDS. ToD’s “concept paper” was prepared internally by the military in December 2019, which was then passed on to DMA. It makes no mention of expenditure on civil defense employees and comparison with other civil and police services. Was the newspaper started at the behest of the bureaucracy? Did Rawat look beyond the CDS (minister of the Center or of Uttrakhand preceded by a post of ambassador/governor?) with Naravane who also endeared himself to the government?

In 2020, media reports revealed that ToD would be tested in the military on an experimental basis, along with Narawane exposing the virtues of ToD (https://youtu.be/GpLGY78tC5Y). Rawat wanted ToD to be the “sole” source of entry for soldiers, but Naravane wanted a pilot for just 100 officers and 1,000 soldiers, which was the handout document. But then the DMA, which is part of the Ministry of Defense, took over and the Minister of Finance was delighted to see the opportunity to run the ToD on a large scale, which made it the only recruitment policy of soldiers. .

Isn’t India a wealthy nation considering the handouts from all political parties, the money spent buying votes and legislators, and the massive spending on daily propaganda that could overshadow the machinery propaganda campaign of the Joe Biden administration in America. Has anyone looked at the expenditures of civilian-staffed government organizations, including defence-related DRDOs and DPSUs – their salaries, pensions and benefits? What about the CAPFs, their workforce, their remuneration, their allowances and their pensions? Why are only the military targeted and, within this framework, the army?

But this is not the first time that the army hierarchy has dropped the service for promoting itself. There have been criticisms that the NFU was recently granted to the CRPF, not the Armed Forces. But a few years ago Army Headquarters wrote to the MoD that the NFU should not be given to Army personnel. The logic given by the Adjutant General at the time was that individuals not promoted but receiving a higher salary would stop working (sic), as if they could not be fired. It is another question that someone in this military hierarchy was eyeing the position of Vice-Chancellor of the Indian National Defense University (INDU), the foundation stone of which was laid by the then Prime Minister May 23, 2013 in Gurgaon (Haryana). But the next government had other plans.

Above are just two of many examples. Also, how the military shoots itself in the foot can be gauged from the article written by Major Navdeep Sigh ten years ago. There are other examples of military naïveté. Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, when he was chief of the navy, had proposed to the Ministry of Defense to establish a joint structure for the special forces of the three services. The MoD has requested comments from the Air Force and the Army. The IAF replied that they had no special forces – the “Garuds” came into existence years later. But the army’s DGMO responded by saying, “We don’t visualize the cross-border employment of special forces.”

National Security Guards (NSGs) have been offered to the military in the past, but the military has declined saying anti-hijacking is not their forte. But the Army continues to provide manpower to the NSG (in many cases working under the direction of police officers) for additional regimental positions despite the CCS memorandum (under which the NSG was created September 22, 1986) specifically stating that the military must provide manpower to the NSG. only for the first 10 years – until September 1996.

Above is just a small overview of the wheels-in-wheels system. Part II and the final part will take a closer look at ToD.

Read also | “The youth don’t want political jumlas”: an army veteran’s detailed argument against the Agnipath plan – Part 2

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited).