Trial By Fire, But No Compensation? The Agniveer Controversy In The Parliament

On July 1, Rahul Gandhi brought up the death of the 23 year-old Agniveer Ajay Kumar in his parliamentary speech, claiming that Kumar was not given the due designation of a “martyr” because of his status as an Agniveer in the Army

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The BJP government at the Centre has been up in arms against the Opposition parties over the Agniveer recruitment scheme, ever since Leader of Opposition Rahul Gandhi brought it up in his Parliamentary speech on July 1. The heated exchange between Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Rahul Gandhi on the Agnipath scheme in the Parliament grabbed widespread attention, followed by a statement of clarification that was issued by the Indian Army and two back-to-back videos on the issue by Gandhi. 

What is the latest controversy surrounding the Agniveer recruitment scheme? 

On July 1, Rahul Gandhi brought up the death of the 23 year-old Agniveer Ajay Kumar in his parliamentary speech, who died in a landmine blast on January 18, 2024 in Jammu and Kashmir. Gandhi claimed that Kumar was not given the due designation of a “martyr” by the Central government because of his status as an Agniveer in the Army. He went on to allege that the government was creating discord amongst soldiers by giving differential treatment to regular soldiers and Agniveers, who are neither entitled to pension nor other provisions that are made available to regular soldiers like access to canteen services or ECHS medical insurance to the next of kin of the martyr. Rajnath Singh rebutted Gandhi’s claims by saying that the families of Agniveers who die in the line of duty are given a compensation of Rs one crore by the government. Singh, along with others from the ruling party further demanded that Gandhi should apologise for “misleading the house with false claims”.  

Two days later, Rahul Gandhi released a video on Twitter/X, where he stated that the Defence Minister had lied in the Parliament about Kumar’s family receiving their compensation from the government. The video showed martyr Ajay Kumar’s father categorically stating that though the Defence Minister had claimed that they had received Rs one crore compensation, he had neither received any money nor any message about the compensation from the central government, even though some financial aid had been provided by the Punjab state government. He said that the families of the martyrs deserved full compensation and schemes like Agnipath must be scrapped and regular recruitment must be restored. 

What was the clarification issued by the Indian Army? 

In response to the video released by Gandhi, the AGD PI Indian Army issued a clarification on Twitter/X on July 3, stating that the family of Agniveer Ajay Kumar has already been paid a compensation of Rupees 98.39 lakh. The statement further clarified that, “the ex- gratia and other benefits amounting to approximately 67 lakh, would be paid on final account settlement shortly post due police verification”. The total amount that the family was meant to receive would come to Rs. 1.65 crore approximately. The statement further emphasised that the Indian Army saluted the supreme sacrifice made by Agniveer Ajay Kumar and that his last rites were carried out with “full military honours”. 

How has the family responded to the Indian Army’s statement? 

On July 5, Rahul Gandhi posted a second video in response to the Indian Army’s clarification, where he stated that the government compensation that was owed to Agniveer Ajay Kumar’s family had still not reached their bank account. In the video, Kumar’s father has said that the money that the family had received was from their personal insurance with the ICICI bank and from the Army group insurance fund. Gandhi further stated in his tweet that there was a difference between “compensation” and “insurance”, and went on to ask the government why the family had still not received the ex-gratia payment and salary arrears six months after Kumar’s death. Kumar’s father further appealed in the video that the families of Agniveers should also be entitled to pension and canteen services like their regular counterparts and that the central government must release the funds that are owed to the family after the martyrdom of Kumar.