New Delhi: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the three service chiefs Friday mounted a defence for the new military recruitment ‘Agnipath’ scheme, saying it was an opportunity to serve the nation.
The statement came as violent protests rocked various parts of the country.
The defence ministry had, in a late night development Thursday, tweaked the minimum age for recruitment, allowing those up to 23 years of age to apply. This was done to cater to those youth who had missed out on the opportunity to join the armed forces due to lack of recruitment rallies for the last two years following Covid restrictions.
Under the new scheme, which was announced by Singh and the three service chiefs Tuesday, all soldiers below officers rank will now be recruited through ‘Agnipath’ for a period of four years. After that, only 25 per cent from each batch will be enrolled in the regular cadre of the armed forces.
Soon after the announcement was made, however, protests broke out in several parts of India against the scheme, with aspirants raising concerns over job security and pension.
Singh, who is on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, said the scheme was a “golden opportunity” for the Indian youth to join the armed forces and serve their motherland.
He further said that keeping in mind the future of the youth, the government had decided to increase the age limit for recruitment of ‘Agniveers’ from 21 to 23 years for the recruitment cycle of 2022.
“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,” he said.
‘One of the most transformational schemes’
Terming it as “one of the most transformational schemes for the armed forces”, Navy Chief Admiral Hari Kumar said ‘Agnipath’ “gives an opportunity for the youth to participate and contribute toward desh seva”.
The three service chiefs also spoke to multiple media houses to clarify any controversy surrounding the new scheme.
Army Chief General Manoj Pande said that it seemed the youth had perhaps not fully understood the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, which has led to apprehensions regarding it.
“Once they understand the contents, they will realise it is good for them and the armed forces,” he said.
“We call upon our youth to avail this opportunity for joining the Indian Army as Agniveers…This decision will provide an opportunity for many of our young, energetic and patriotic youth who, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, were preparing to join the recruitment rallies, which couldn’t be completed in the last two years due to restrictions,” Gen Pande added.
He also said training of the first batch of ‘Agniveers’ in the Indian Army will start by December this year and they will begin their active service by the middle of next year.
Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, meanwhile, said the IAF will start the recruitment process under the new scheme on 24 June.
“The government has announced Agnipath scheme under which youth will be able to join armed forces. The age criteria will be 17.5 to 21 years. Happy to announce that for the first recruitment, the upper age limit has been revised to 23 years. It will benefit the youth. Air Force recruitment will begin on 24 June,” the IAF chief said.
The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Friday issued a statement saying it will work closely with the armed forces in the implementation of the programme as the country prepares for a “future-ready army of young Indians”.
The ministry added that it will work collaboratively with various wings of the armed forces to train aspirants in additional skills in order to make them better suited to their roles.
“Besides, all Agniveers will get Skill India certification while in service, which will enable them to pursue many diverse opportunities in entrepreneurship and job roles that are being created in our economy after completion of their tenure,” it said.