The Government of India’s job creating projects like ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skills India’ raised expectations; but the project ‘Agnipath’ in the defence force raised an alarm. The countrywide arson was an overreaction and possibly politically motivated; but it raised some serious questions about the government's future plans. Some critics described the move as ‘homeguardisation’ of the army. It was like creating the ‘civic volunteers’ in the police force, with no job securities, pensions and other benefits which a permanent employment can offer.
The project has evoked mixed reactions among the defence forces, though the chiefs of army, navy and airforce are determined to go ahead with the new employment plan. They think this will infuse fresh blood in the defence force (it is claimed to be aging) and also recalibrate the defence recruitment process which was almost at a standstill in recent times. According to official figures, of the rupees five lakh crore defence budget, 3.5 lakh crores goes to pay pensions and salaries. Defence needs more funds for modernisation and the government’s reluctance to pay the huge amount in pensions (almost 1.5 lakh crores) is now fairly well known. Agnipath, some say, is a clever way of increasing defence employment, at the same time reducing the future burden of defence pensions.
The government, however, facing such widespread protests has moved a few steps back and introduced some ‘reservations’ for these ‘four year’ recruits so that a select few can continue in the defence forces, thus removing some amount of uncertainty among the youth as to what they would do after completing the four years in the army. However, the system of having ‘mercenaries’ in the army is an age-old process, and therefore this widespread violent protest naturally raises questions about political motivation. New issues, like these large numbers of army men with gun licenses returning back to civilian life might create law and order problems that are naturally being raised, especially when countries like the US, after much debate, are taking steps towards gun control among individuals.
Generating employment, therefore, is a vital social issue which needs to be tackled with care. As it is, the country’s growth figures do not match with employment prospects. World Bank figures reveal that 50% of the Indian workforce is unemployed; national figures say it is 30%. To match the increasing population, the World Bank says India needs to create 8 million jobs per year. India is lagging far behind. An OECD figure says that 30% Indian youth, aged between 15-29 are neither in employment nor in education or training. Agriculture, which employs the maximum number of people in India, an RBI paper says, has shown negative employment elasticity of growth. ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is a good supplementary project. But figures show that there has been a fall in recent times in self-employment, especially in cities. What is more alarming: a self employed worker has lower income than a salaried wage earner. Naturally, the incentive to entrepreneurship is still less.
The Agnipath scheme reveals the dilemma of the government to push through with job oriented schemes. The push is a necessity; but the government needs to be more circumspect. You can encourage youngsters to take risks; but not push them to total uncertainty. The later revision of the scheme – opportunities to stay on in the forces – could have been incorporated at the beginning.
The corruption that is in-built in the system of employment – as revealed in the education sector in West Bengal in recent times and earlier in Madhya Pradesh - must be firmly eradicated. In West Bengal, jobs were sold from primary school level to, informed sources say, to the level of the vice chancellor.
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