Service chiefs mount Agnipath defence as protests rage

Updated on Jun 18, 2022 01:48 AM IST

The defence ministry on Thursday made those who are 23 eligible for a career in the military for the next round of recruitment as a one-time waiver given that the process was stalled for more than two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Agnipath model, announced by defence minister Rajnath Singh earlier this week in the presence of the chiefs, has replaced the legacy system of recruitment with the aim to lower the age profile of the three services and ensure a fitter military. (Ajay Aggarwal/HT PHOTO.)
The Agnipath model, announced by defence minister Rajnath Singh earlier this week in the presence of the chiefs, has replaced the legacy system of recruitment with the aim to lower the age profile of the three services and ensure a fitter military. (Ajay Aggarwal/HT PHOTO.)

The three service chiefs on Friday mounted a defence of the Agnipath recruitment model for the short-term induction of soldiers in the military, arguing that it presented an opportunity to youth to serve the nation, and military service would equip them with skills for subsequent employment, even as tens of thousands of angry defence aspirants ignored appeals for calm and intensified their protests across the country demanding that the scheme be immediately rolled back.

The Agnipath model, announced by defence minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday in the presence of the chiefs, has replaced the legacy system of recruitment with the aim to lower the age profile of the three services, ensure a fitter military and create a technically adept war fighting force capable of meeting future challenges. The recruits will be called Agniveers.

Army chief General Manoj Pande said youth had perhaps not fully understood the contents and implications of Agnipath, and that had led to apprehension about the scheme. “Once they understand the contents, they will realise it is good for them and the armed forces,” he said.

Also Read| Agnipath scheme: What will Agniveers do after 4 yrs of service? Govt shares list

Pande said units and formations of the army were ready to embrace the change and efforts were being made to spread awareness about the scheme down to the last soldiers at the earliest. He said the announcements made by the government; different state governments, corporate houses and other agencies over the last two days on giving Agniveers priority in employment should reassure the youth and allay their concerns.

The Agnipath scheme, cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security earlier this week, seeks to recruit soldiers, including women, for only four years with a provision to retain 25% of them in the regular cadre for 15 more years after another round of screening, enhance the operational preparedness of the armed forces, and create a skilled and dynamic work force for employment in other sectors.

There is now no other avenue for recruitment for personnel below officer rank (PBOR) in the army, air force and navy.

Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said the introduction of the Agnipath scheme was long overdue, and was in line with the recommendations made by the Kargil Review Committee to ensure a younger age profile in the armed forces.

The model is expected to bring down the average age of a soldier in the armed forces from the current 32 years to 24-26 years over the next six to seven years.

“The armed forces are not an employment generation scheme. You join the defence services because of patriotism and the desire to do something for the country. When 75% of the Agniveers are released from service, they will be young, say 22, and that age the world will be theirs,” said Kumar.

He said deliberations over different aspects of the model were carried out for two years before it was announced. He said the possibility of launching a pilot project was also considered but was not pursued as it would have created two classes of recruits, led to issues related to pay and seniority, and opened the floodgates of litigation.

Also Read| Agnipath scheme's myths Vs facts as govt explains amid protests

The Indian Air Force will be the first service to recruit young men under Agnipath. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said that the air force would kick off selection under the new recruitment model on June 24. He said the government’s decision to grant a two-year age relaxation to defence aspirants under the new model will permit a larger section of youth to enroll in the armed forces.

The defence ministry on Thursday made those who are 23 eligible for a career in the military for the next round of recruitment as a one-time waiver given that the process was stalled for more than two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The relaxation of age indicates that the government cares for our youth. The department of military affairs, ministry of defence and the services are committed to commence the recruitment process at the earliest. We invite the youth to join the armed forces and serve the nation through Agnipath,” the defence minister said on Friday.

The armed forces will recruit 46,000 Agniveers this year, with the army expected to conduct its first recruitment rally under the new model in 90 days. The first batch of the army’s Agniveers will start their training by the year-end, Pande said.

The government has said that Agniveers will be absorbed on priority in other central security forces and be eligible for government jobs such as in the railways. But some veterans have raised concerns about the combat-readiness of the new recruits, their levels of motivation, and whether the prospect of a short tenure will make them risk averse.

The four-year service includes training for 10 weeks to six months. Those recruited under the legacy system train for nine months and serve the armed forces for about 20 years before retiring in their late 30s.

Those recruited under the new scheme will draw an annual package of 4.76 lakh in the first year of service and 6.92 lakh in the fourth, will get a non-contributory insurance cover of 48 lakh, and an additional ex-gratia payment of 44 lakh for death attributable to service.

Soldiers who are released after four years will get 11.71 Lakh as Seva Nidhi severance package, including 5.02 lakh contributed by them during their service. The soldiers released after four years will not be entitled to pension, while those retained to serve for another 15 years will get the retirement benefit. Pensions account for a fifth of India’s defence budget. The country allocated 5.25 lakh crore for military spending this year, including a pension outlay of 1.19 lakh crore.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Saturday, August 20, 2022
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now