The benefits that Agniveers get, compared with those of regular soldiers
Context- The death of a 22-year-old Agniveer who was deployed on the Siachen glacier has brought back focus on Agnipath, the contractual scheme for recruitment into the armed forces, and the benefits under it.
Operator Akshay Laxman Gawte who belonged to Buldhana in Maharashtra, died on October 21 after complaining of uneasiness. About 10 days previously, another Agniveer, Amritpal Singh of Punjab’s Mansa district, died by suicide while on sentry duty in Rajouri sector, Jammu and Kashmir.
What is the Agnipath scheme?
- The Agnipath scheme was introduced last year to take in recruits for the Army, Navy, and Indian Air Force (IAF) on four-year contracts, including six months of training.
- At the end of four years, up to 25% of recruits can apply to join the services on a regular basis, subject to merit and organisational requirements.
- The scheme was announced as the armed forces looked to restart the recruitment of soldiers, sailors, and airmen after the Covid-19 pandemic led to the suspension of recruitment for around two years. At present, all sailors, airmen, and soldiers, except the technical cadre of the medical branch, are recruited to the services under the scheme.
- The scheme had also opened doors for recruitment of women as Agniveers to the IAF and Navy. The Army started the process of recruiting women soldiers into its Corps of Military Police in 2019.
Why was the Agnipath scheme brought?
- The government had said the scheme aimed to ensure a “youthful profile” for the armed forces by bringing down the average age of serving soldiers.
- It said the scheme would help transform the armed forces into a “tech-savvy and modern fighting force”, and would ensure the availability of disciplined and skilled youth from a range of backgrounds in civil society after their retirement at the end of four years.
- However, a major consideration was understood to have been the burgeoning defence pension bills of the Government of India. Over the next couple of years, the scheme will bring down the overall defence pension bill.
So what benefits are Agniveers entitled to?
- The remuneration of an Agniveer is Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000 per month, and they are entitled to risk and hardship allowances.
- The scheme also has a Seva Nidhi contributory package, under which the Agniveers contribute 30% of their monthly emoluments, and the government contributes the same amount. On completion of four years, they will receive around Rs 11.71 lakh (with interest) from the package, and this will be exempt from income tax.
- In case of death on duty, they will receive more than Rs 1 crore, including the Seva Nidhi package and full pay for the period they could not serve.
- In the instance of a disability, they can receive up to Rs 44 lakh depending on the extent of disability suffered, which is attributed to or aggravated by military service.
And how do these benefits compare with those due to a regular soldier?
- The biggest difference between a soldier employed on regular service and an Agniveer serving for four years is that the former will draw a pension post-retirement, while an Agniveer will not.
- The 25% of Agniveers who would eventually be absorbed into the forces after four years will, however, be eligible for pension after retirement.
- In case of a battle casualty, the family of a regular soldier gets a liberalised family pension which is equal to the last pay drawn, for life. There is no income tax on this amount. The family of an Agniveer is eligible only for a non-contributory insurance sum amounting to Rs 48 lakh.
- A regular soldier gets gratuity for 15 days per year for every year of service, and has an insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh. Soldiers on regular service also get a children’s education allowance up to graduation. None of these are available to Agniveers.
- The starting salary of a regular soldier, combined with military service pay and dearness allowance, comes to around Rs 40,000, whereas the starting salary of an Agniveer is Rs 30,000.
- In case of suffering a disability during service, an Agniveer gets an ex gratia amount that depends on the percentage of disability suffered, pay for the remaining part of the four-year service tenure (if they go out of service), and monetary benefits under the Seva Nidhi scheme.
What did the Agnipath scheme offer to Operator Akshay Laxman Gawte and his next of kin?
- The Army has said that the “emoluments authorised to a deceased Battle Casualty” will comprise the non-contributory insurance sum of Rs 48 lakh, and Seva Nidhi contributed by the Agniveer with equal contribution by the government, along with the interest.
- As per the provisions of the scheme, he will also get the ex-gratia amount of Rs 44 Lakh, and “pay of balance tenure from date of death, till completion of four years (more than Rs13 lakh, in the instant case)”.
- A contribution of Rs 8 lakh from the Armed Forces Battle Casualty Fund, and an immediate financial assistance of Rs 30,000 too, would be provided to his family from the Army Wives’ Welfare Association.
Way Forward- Agniveer Scheme is a major haul in the human resource management in the Indian Armed forces. Its impact on operational readiness should be monitored for some years going forward.
Syllabus- GS-3; Internal Security
Source- Indian Express