Agnipath scheme: After protests, Centre makes 'one-time waiver' and raises upper-age limit to 23 years from 21
Amid widespread protests by youngsters and armed forces aspirants against the new model for enrolment of soldiers into the three services - Army, Navy, Air Force, the Central government Thursday increased the upper-age limit for recruitment under the Agnipath scheme to 23 years from 21 years for the year 2022.
Unveiling the scheme on Tuesday (14 June), the government had said youngsters between the ages of 17-and-a-half and 21 would be inducted for a four-year tenure, while 25 per cent of the recruits will be retained for regular service.
"Cognizant of the fact that it has not been possible to undertake the recruitment during the last two years, the government has decided that a one-time waiver shall be granted for the proposed recruitment cycle for 2022," according to a statement issued by the defence ministry.
"Accordingly, the upper age limit for the recruitment process for Agnipath scheme for 2022 is increased to 23 years," the statement said.
States including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, have witnessed protests against the newly launched Agnipath scheme by the central government.
Trains were set ablaze, public and police vehicles attacked and personnel injured as protests over 'Agnipath' intensified on Thursday.
Protests were reported in Gurugram, Rewari, Charkhi Dadri, Hisar and Rohtak of Haryana.
Violent demonstrations were held in Gwalior and Indore in Madhya Pradesh and Bulandshahr and Ballia districts of Uttar Pradesh.
People took to streets in Jodhpur, Sikar, Jaipur, Nagaur, Ajmer and Jhunjhunu districts of Rajasthan but no violence was reported.
BJP ally JD(U)'s national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan came out with an impassioned tweet urging the Centre to do an "avilamb punarvichaar" (a rethink without delay) on the scheme which has "given rise to fears and anxieties in the minds of a large number of youths in Bihar and other parts of the country".
Former Punjab chief minister and BJP ally Amarinder Singh also struck a note of caution and suggested a rethink.
In a statement, he wondered why the government needed to make such "radical changes" in the recruitment policy, which has been working "so well for the country for so many years".
"Hiring soldiers for four years, with effective service of three years, is not at all militarily a good idea," said Amarinder Singh, a former Army captain, said.
The Congress hit out the government, saying the new scheme carries multiple risks and subverts the longstanding traditions and ethos of the armed forces, and may turn out to be a case of "penny wise and security foolish".
Congress leader P Chidambaram said the government should keep the scheme in abeyance and hold wide consultations and then take further action on it.
"No rank, no pension, no direct recruitment for 2 years, no stable future after four years, no respect shown by the government for the army," Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.
"Listen to the voice of unemployed youths of the country, don't take 'agnipareeksha' of their patience by making them walk on 'Agnipath', Mr. prime minister," Gandhi said.
The Left parties, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, BSP leader Mayawati and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also voiced displeasure over the scheme which the government insists is "transformative".
A number of opposition political parties and a significant number of military experts have also slammed the scheme, saying it will adversely impact the functioning of the armed forces.
The new scheme for the recruitment of soldiers in Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force was projected by the government as a major overhaul of the decades-old selection process to enhance the youthful profile of the three services.
After the scheme was rolled out, the Army said it would ensure an enhanced youthful profile of the force and result in a "reduction in the average age from 32 to 26 years over a period of time".
The three service chiefs have also strongly backed the scheme and said it was unveiled after over two years of deliberations.
Military officials said with the infusion of technology and revamping of the training programme, the armed forces would ensure that the personnel inducted under the scheme have the same skill sets that are required to meet the operational challenges.
The monthly salary of an "Agniveer" in the first year of employment would be Rs 30,000 and the in-hand amount would be Rs 21,000 as Rs 9,000 would go to a corpus with an equal contribution from the government.
Subsequently, the monthly salary in the second, third and fourth year will be Rs 33,000, Rs 36,500 and Rs 40,000.
Each "Agniveer" will get an amount of Rs 11.71 lakh as the "Seva Nidhi Package" and it will be exempted from income tax.
The recruitment process under the Agnipath scheme would start in 90 days.
The scheme is also expected to cut the ballooning salary and pension bills of the armed forces as there will be no entitlement to gratuity and pensionary benefits.
The new recruits will be provided a non-contributory life insurance cover of Rs 48 lakh for the duration of their engagement period in the armed forces, according to the defence ministry.
The four-year tenure under the new scheme will include a training period of around two-and-a-half months to six months.
Facing widespread protests against the scheme, the government asserted that the new model of recruitment will bring new capabilities to the armed forces, strengthen India's overall might and allow youngsters to serve the nation.
In a series of social media posts, the government's information dissemination arm said the scheme will help the military take advantage of the technical skills and fresh thinking of the youngsters.
"The scheme will bring in new dynamism to the armed forces. It will help the forces bring in new capabilities.... It will allow the youths to serve the nation," the Press Information Bureau said in a Facebook post.