Months after it was first proposed by the Army, India’s defence establishment is actively considering expanding the scope of the ‘Tour of Duty’ model of recruitment to the Air Force and Navy as well, ThePrint has learnt.
“We are planning to expand the scheme to bring all three services under its fold. Bringing the Central Armed Police Forces under the same scheme or a similar one is also under consideration,” a defence official said, adding the finer details and calculations for the scheme are being worked out, so it can be implemented by the middle of next year.
Sources said India’s political leadership is keen on the scheme, given its future potential to generate large-scale employment, and is pushing to working out its modalities. They added that there are plans to expand the scheme over the next few years to ensure that close to 40 per cent of the strength of the Army is recruited through it.
Army sources, however, told ThePrint that no concrete decision has yet been taken on the implementation of the scheme, and the idea is currently at the discussion stage.
Earlier this year, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had said the concept is at a nascent stage, and its viability needs to be studied.
What is the proposed model?
Currently, the only option apart from regular permanent commission into the armed forces is the Short Service Commission, in which officers are recruited for a period of 14 years. A large number of SSC officers eventually opt for permanent commission, subject to eligibility.
The Army had, in May, proposed the ‘Tour of Duty’ model of recruitment that would let young individuals voluntarily serve for a temporary period of three years. The idea is to attract more youth to join the Army, fill up officers’ vacancies, and later, reduce burgeoning defence pensions, which make up nearly 30 per cent of the defence budget after ballooning when the ‘One Rank One Pension’ (OROP) scheme was implemented.
Defence sources told ThePrint that one of the names being considered for the scheme is ‘Agnipath’ (literally, the path of fire), with the volunteers set to be called ‘Agniveers’ (fire-warriors).
As reported by ThePrint, an initial pilot project is set to be tried out, with the first batch of recruits likely to include up to 100 officers and 1,000 personnel at other ranks. The model will be evaluated and assessed on the results of the pilot project.
‘Close to 40 % of the Army could be recruited through it’
To reduce the defence pension bill, the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) headed by CDS Rawat had proposed that those taking PMR (Pre-Mature Retirement) with 20-25 years of service will now be entitled to only 50 per cent of the current pension. As of now, rules state that officers will receive a pension which is 50 per cent of their last drawn salary, for which they are eligible upon completing 20 years of service.
The original Tour of Duty proposal stated that the total amount spent on each officer recruited through the scheme would be Rs 80-85 lakh, including pre-commission training, pay, allowances, gratuity, proposed severance packages, leave encashment and other costs. Currently, an SSC officer who retires after 10 years gets Rs 5.12 crore, while one who retires after 14 years gets Rs 6.83 crore. The savings on only 1,000 jawans could be Rs 11,000 crore, the proposal said, adding that this money could be put towards the modernisation of the Army.
A second defence official told ThePrint that to further reduce the pension bill, there are plans to expand the scheme over a few years to ensure that close to 40 per cent of Army personnel are recruited through it. The official used the Army as an example since it is the largest of the three services, with a strength of about 14 lakh.
“Around 65,000 personnel of the Army retire every year. The plan being considered is to recruit a certain number of personnel on this scheme, and keep increasing the number progressively every year, till they form a decided percentage of the armed forces,” the official said.
The official said that such large-scale recruitment can come into effect only in about 15 years.
What the ‘tour’ will entail
While the final modalities of selection are yet to be worked out, sources said doing away with the written examination and fixing a cut-off percentage — in graduation for officers and class 12 for jawans — is being considered. But interviews will be part of the process.
Initial plans are to hold the training for the selected officers at the Officer Training Academy in Chennai, and for the jawans at the respective regimental centres. Selected regimental centres are to be nominated for the pilot project.
Once trained, these personnel would be sent to their respective units and field areas. The modalities for allotment of arms and services would be worked out separately, and would depend on the final figures or percentages approved.
“Eventually, it might be a move that will aim at generating large-scale employment in the country,” a source said.
However, with the enhanced number of people being trained, the overall expenditure on the training will go up.
“While the nation as a whole will have certain trained, disciplined and motivated youth available for jobs, there will be a certain lack of continuity and lack of regimentation in the forces. It has to be seen how this can be checked,” the second official quoted above said.
Another source said a similar scheme for CAPFs is also being considered. “We have sought comments from CAPFs on the move, which any further decision would be based on.”