Way ahead for Agnipath and Agniveer: Rescuing planet on fire

Creating an Army for battle against climate change


July 5, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Way ahead for Agnipath and Agniveer: Rescuing planet on fire

Agnipath has rocked many parts of the India and is termed as a hurried decision (Photo: Aman Kanojiya/MIG)

The new recruitment scheme for Indian defence forces has attracted a lot of criticisms. But there are clear benefits, intended and unintended, from this scheme. In some senses the Agniveers can be the soldiers in the battle against climate change.

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The recent decision by the central government to dramatically change recruitment and tenure policies for the soldiers of the Indian defence forces has attracted a sharp controversy with proponents and opponents of the revised policies engaged in a very public and high-profile spat.

Agnipath’ literally means way to the fire.  ‘Agniveer’ means the fire-warrior, the youth, that would benefit from the policy. The overall objective of the Agnipath is to gainfully deploy the ambitious potential of India’s youth for military training and employment for a limited time and then redeploy them in the open market for the professional career of their own choice or the choice of the employers who find them eligible.

Much has been written, talked and analysed about these policies by argumentative Indians, fueled by media and there have been many discussions about the intended benefits of the scheme.

However, the unintended advantages and hidden opportunities of these disruptive and timely policies are still not understood by many, not even by the Indian policy makers, leave alone elite media experts busy in their business-as-usual popularism and calisthenics.

As the government has said it is a path-breaking policy-transformation for India for three reasons. First, it intends to leverage the India’s youthful demographic dividend and the dormant fire that is enraging and seething within them. Second, India’s armed forces need to be of youthful age as is the global trend. Third, the ambitious growth-plan of India that is indelibly linked to the target of sustainable development would need not only strong youth but also the discipline and a strong character.

Mahatma Gandhi believed that if at all the youth could be the cadre of inspiring, competent role models and change agents in independent India then they should be drenched in the courageous and disciplinary characters. That would  trigger off the process of building a healthy nation with a purpose.

Such process is now poised to accelerate paddled by  the Agnipath policies that are now set in motion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Former President of India Dr Abdul Kalam  had suggested an approach called PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural areas) keeping in mind that nearly 65 pc of Indian youth still live in rural area. Agnipath would kick-off that process to bridge the gap between rural and urban youth to prepare themselves as Agniveers in more disciplined and structured manner.

Agnipath has rocked many parts of the India and is termed as a hurried decision. Those against new policy think that as per earlier policy once in Army, future of youth is safe for ever. As per them after just four years of employment the youth coming out of forces would be on the roads and left nowhere. There are also doubts being raised that with only 25 pc allowed to stay on in the Army, there would be favouritism in their selection.

Some of the public and private sector businesses have come forward to promise a preferential treatment in hiring of the 75 pc who would have to leave the Army after four years of service. They have also offered to retrain them if needed. These employers obviously value the discipline, integrity, and targeted approach the trained armed forces possess.

Soldiers of climate

Now come the ‘unintended advantages’ and ‘hidden opportunities’. Agniveers would be the future change-makers to provide nation-wide and even global response to the several planetary scale challenges that the world is facing that range from air, water and land pollution to loss of biodiversity and severe degradation and permanent loss of natural resources.

Though all the above issues are critical for the Earth to survive, let us take up the challenge that is linked to all others, climate change. A trained force of disciplined people is needed to fight the war against enemies of the nation. A similar force is also needed on the front line of war against the climate change in two principle fonts, the mitigation actions and adaptation to climate change.

Mitigation requires reduction in the carbon dioxide emissions by enhancing energy efficiency, use of renewable energy and forest cover. That itself would need huge manpower in India and all over the world for action on top-gear.  Renewable energy’s ability to create jobs to  meet climate goals is beyond doubt and it is a large source of employment as 12 million persons are already working in this domain worldwide as per ‘Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2021’ published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The forecast by 2050 for renewable energy sector employment is even bigger, 43 million. As regards India, study by National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) of USA says India with its ambitious plan of 280 GW solar and 140 GW of wind energy capacity can create 3.5 million jobs by 2030.

The world has grossly neglected and delayed the mitigation actions on climate change. The first target of limiting the temperature rise 1.5°C below pre-industrial level is now clearly beyond reach. Attaining the second target of limiting the global warming below 2°C by end of this century has barely 50 pc chance to succeed as per the IPCC, the international body of climate experts mandated by the United Nations to track climate change. We are in a downward spiral in terms of meeting the targets of Paris Climate Agreement whereas natural catastrophes are on steep rise. Wildfires are not limited now to developing countries or only some parts of the world. From Australia to Canada and from Brazil to Siberia, the entire world is facing these catastrophes on an annual basis, further accentuating global warming.

Not only to deal with the catastrophes, but also for their impact on people, like preventive evacuation or rescue operations, defence, fire and police forces have routinely been deployed around the world.

Life-long warriors against climate change

Hence, while training the Agniveers and during the first four years, the government needs to include courses on disaster management, climate change and mitigation. As it is, the Indian Army is already facing issues of climate change routinely, especially in the Himalayas with melting glaciers, roaring streams and frequent landslides and avalanches.

The borders and front lines of the war against climate change are widespread. Civilian volunteers would grossly lack the required ability and discipline to address climate emergency. Indian Army need to consider ‘business-un-usual’ in order to train, skill and make use of Agniveers after their 4 years of service by providing incentives and reservations in such ‘climate sector’.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees UNHCR has operations in more than 130 countries and 70 years of experience in protecting the displaced with limited means and resources as well as to better anticipate and respond to displacement caused by natural disasters. In places where people are already displaced, Agniveers as UN Volunteers could help them prepare for and adapt to climate change and hence have a life-long career as climate warriors.

According to Climate Emergency Declaration and Mobilisation In Action, 2,100 local governments in 39 countries representing 1 billion people, have already declared climate emergency as of May 2022. This number is rising and the world needs a trained workforce to deal with the disasters and at all levels, including digital dashboards and internet based modelling, forecasting and monitoring. The number of people that the world would need to deal with the climate catastrophes is set to rise to several million more in the years to come. Hence, here India can really benefit from its demographic dividend, if the Agniveers are not only properly trained on these lines but also helped in being deployed in their new roles and new careers that would not have a four-year limit attached to it.

Time is of great immense and since Agnipath scheme has just started, it would be imperative for the government to conduct this additional training right from the word go so that within the next four years, we can see the outcomes of the first such batch of trained Agniveers, who would be Indian soldiers. But for protecting the entire world and fighting climate change, instead of only the enemy at our borders.

(Rajendra Shende, an IIT Bombay alumni,  is a former director of UNEP and currently chairman of Terre Policy Centre and advisor to Media India Group. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Media India Group)



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