Express News Service

NEW DELHI: The government’s new recruitment scheme Agnipath has stoked a major debate. While the government has termed it transformative, the lawmakers within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and those in opposition have questioned the intentions of the government. Street Protests were held by youth at various places in the country.

Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Rahul Gandhi termed it an “uncalled for” move that too at the time when India is facing threats on two fronts.

Gandhi Tweeted, “When India faces threats on two fronts, the uncalled for Agnipath scheme reduces the operational effectiveness of our armed forces.”

The BJP govt must stop compromising the dignity, traditions, valour & discipline of our forces, added Rahul.

Questioning the short tenure of service of those who will get inducted under the scheme, BJP MP from Pilibhit Varun Gandhi wrote, “Even the government gets elected for five years. Then why only four years is given to the youth to serve the nation?”

The Cabinet approved the “transformative” scheme Agnipath, the new recruitment scheme for the armed forces, on Tuesday. Under it around 46,000 youth between the ages of 17 and a half years and 21 years will be inducted into the Army, Navy and Air Force for a period of four years.

One of the positives of the scheme is that this will make the age profile of the Units youthful.

Under the old system youth between 16 and half years and 21 years were selected for a minimum of 15 years of service and used to get a pension for serving this much. Under the new scheme, 100 per cent of the recruits will leave after four years and then around 25 per cent will be taken back from among them under a fresh process and will serve on a permanent basis.

The recruitment will be on an “all India-all class” basis which earlier was based on region as well as caste and used to serve in regiments like Dogra, Punjab, J&K, Rajput, Jat and Sikhs.

As per Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav such training and then left unemployed after four years might lead to law and order issue.

“Under the Agnipath scheme a large population which is trained in using arms will get unemployed at the age of 22 years after serving for a temporary short period. Will it not lead to a law and order situation in the country?” he said.

Lots of veterans expressed their angst against the scheme. Lieutenant General (retired) P R Shankar, wrote in his blog, “Many senior veterans have written with the wisdom of their experience. A common voice has emerged. The tour of duty does not seem to be a good idea. Proceed with caution.”

Protests break out in Bihar, Rajasthan

Army aspirants disrupted rail and road traffic in several parts of Bihar on Wednesday in protest against the “Agnipath” scheme which proposes the recruitment of jawans on a contractual basis for a four-year period followed by compulsory retirement for most without gratuity and pension benefits.

In the Buxar district, more than 100 young men stormed the railway station and squatted on the tracks, blocking the onward journey of the Patna-bound Janshatabdi Express for nearly 30 minutes.

They raised slogans against the scheme, unveiled the previous day by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, until security personnel led by RPF inspector Deepak Kumar and GRP SHO Ramashish Prasad, arrived at the spot and warned them against disruption of rail traffic.

There were reports in a section of the regional media that the protesters had hurled stones at Pataliputra Express, which passed through the station, though both Kumar and Prasad denied such an occurrence.

In Muzaffarpur town, a large number of Army aspirants vented their ire by placing burning tyres on the roads around the sprawling “Chakkar Maidan” where they turn up in large numbers for physical tests which are mandatory for the recruitment of jawans.

They said they were exasperated to learn about the new job rules which has come after two years of “no recruitment” by the armed forces despite their having passed the requisite physical tests.

Many Army aspirants also marched towards the Collectorate where they submitted a memorandum to the District Magistrate.

In Begusarai, Army aspirants, many of them NCC cadets, staged a demonstration at Mahadev Chowk where they carried a huge poster inscribed with the demand rollback of the Agnipath scheme.

Meanwhile, leader of the opposition in the state, Tejashwi Yadav, came out with a flurry of tweets sharing his misgivings about the much-touted move by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

The RJD leader expressed apprehensions that like contractual hiring in Railways and “lateral entry” in other government departments, Agnipath “will be used to do away with the constitutionally sanctioned reservation benefits”.

The former Bihar Deputy CM also alleged “BJP and Sangh Parivar may use the scheme for providing arms training, at government expense, to its hate-filled supporters and fringe elements”.

“As a result of the Agnipath scheme, many young men with military training will be rendered jobless at a tender age of 22. Will it not result in a major law and order problem in the country?”, he asked.

He also asked, with a rhetorical flourish, whether the government expected youngsters recruited under the Agnipath scheme to spend rest of their lives working as security guards of “big capitalists friendly to the BJP”.

He also took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of 10 lakh government jobs till the end of next year and asked if the number “takes into account the 19 lakh jobs promised in Bihar” ahead of the 2020 assembly polls.

Around 150 people blocked the Ajmer-Delhi highway on Wednesday in protest.

According to Kardhani Station House Officer (SHO) Banwari Meena, around 150 protesters blocked the highway, demanding that recruitment into the armed forces should be done following the earlier method.

The SHO said the protesters were subsequently dispersed and the highway was cleared, adding that 10 people were arrested.

Here is what defence establishments are saying

Chief of Staff of the Army’s Eastern Command Lt General K K Repswal on Wednesday said that recruitment of young soldiers under the ‘Agnipath’ scheme will provide availability of a trained pool in case of any requirement even after conclusion of their four-year term in the armed forces.

“It’s a trained pool available to you and if the situation so demands, they can be called back,” he said at a press conference at the Eastern Command headquarters here at Fort William.

Repswal said the Army will recruit 40,000 soldiers under this scheme, and the process would commence within three months.

He said at present, only male candidates will be recruited.

“Girls will also get a chance when the system stabilises.”

Asserting that the “Agnipath’ scheme is to transform the Army to make it future-ready, Repswal said it provides for retention of 25 per cent of each batch for the regular forces, and the 75 per cent who leave after completion of four years will get preference in recruitment in central armed police forces and the Assam Rifles.

The government had unveiled the scheme on Tuesday that will overhaul the decades-old selection process to bring in fitter and younger troops to tackle future security challenges facing the nation.

Around 46,000 soldiers will be recruited this year between the ages of 17 and a half years and 21 years into the Army, Navy and the Air Force.

“The Indian Army will recruit 25,000 ‘Agniveers’ in the next 180 days and the process for recruitment of the remaining 15,000 will begin a month after that,” Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt General B S Raju told PTI.

He further said that the recruitment drive will be in all the 773 districts throughout the country.

“It will cover every district of the country,” he added.

Gen Raju said that the defence minister is empowered to make necessary changes according to operational requirements.

The “Agnipath” scheme is being seen as a major overhaul of the decades-old selection process to bring in fitter and younger troops to deal with future security challenges facing the nation.

The recruitment will be based on an “all-India, all-class” basis that is set to change the composition of some regiments that recruit youths from specific regions as well as castes.

After completion of the four-year tenure of the recruits, the scheme provides for retaining 25 per cent of each specific batch for regular service, based on organisational requirements and policies promulgated by the armed forces from time to time.

The four-year tenure under the new scheme will include around six months to eight months of training periods.

Raju said the recruitment will give a younger profile to the Army and they will also quickly adapt to new technologies.

Lieutenant General Arvind Walia, Chief of Staff, Southern Command, on Wednesday said the new ‘Agnipath’ scheme for recruitment in the armed forces is a “transformational reform” for the Army and the nation as it aims to bring paradigm changes in the Army’s human resource management.

Speaking to reporters at the Southern Command headquarters, Lt General Walia said the concept of the scheme envisages the promotion of nationalism in the youth by offering skilled manpower to the society and ensuring a more youthful profile of the Army.

“The Agnipath scheme is a transformational reform for the Army and the nation and aims to bring paradigm changes in the human resource management of the Indian Army,” he said.

The southern commander also said the youthful profile of the Army will provide a fresh lease of “josh and jazba” (enthusiasm) while bringing about a transformational shift towards a more technical-savvy armed force, which is the need of the hour.

The youths recruited under the scheme will be known as ‘Agniveers’.

After completion of the four-year tenure, 25 per cent of the recruits from each specific batch would be offered regular service.

The Lt General assured that there will be no compromise on the standards applied by the armed forces in ensuring the minimum physical, medical and professional parameters for recruits.

He also said that during the implementation and stabilisation of the scheme, the Army’s operational capabilities and preparedness will be fully maintained.

“I wish to emphatically state that the Army will continue to retain its rich legacy, history, traditions, military values and culture – based on the principles of cohesiveness, camaraderie, and the core ethos of ‘Naam, Namak and Nishan'”, he stated.

It is envisaged that the average age profile of the Indian Armed forces would come down by about 4-5 years by the implementation of this scheme.

“The dividends of short military service to the nation, society and the youth of the nation are immense.

This includes the inculcation of patriotism, teamwork, enhancement of physical fitness, ingrained loyalty for the country and availability of trained personnel to boost national security in times of external threats, internal threats and natural disasters,” the Lt General said.

He also said the scheme will lead to a much more youthful and technically adept war-fighting force by ensuring a fine balance between youthful and experienced personnel in the armed forces.

The Lt General added that the first rally of the recruitment will be held within 90 days.

The Indian armed forces will not compromise with the quality of cadets while recruiting young ‘Agniveers’ under the newly launched Agnipath scheme for four years, Air Marshal Manavendra Singh said on Wednesday.

The Centre on Tuesday rolled out the Agnipath scheme offering four-year military training to youth from the ages 17.5 years to 21 years.

After completing the training, the cadets may leave the service and make their own move or if they wish they can apply for regular enrolment in the military services, the Centre said while launching the scheme.

“I would like to reassure you that it (Agnipath scheme) will work. The quality (of recruited cadets under Agnipath scheme) will not be compromised,” Air Marshal Singh, who is the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Headquarters Training Command, Indian Air Force, told reporters here.

He was replying to a query on the defence veterans criticising the Agnipath scheme.

The Air Marshal said in the fast-changing world there cannot be just one way of doing things and insist upon doing things that they had been doing for the past 100 or 200 years.

“There is no reason to believe that there isn’t just one way of doing things. Let’s give it (Agnipath scheme) a try. And I have really strong belief that it will succeed very well. It will be very well received by the youth of this country and we will benefit from it,” Air Marshal Singh said.

He said in a democratic nation, everyone is free to voice their opinion.

But as an expert of the subject, the IAF officer said the defence establishment can train people for all kinds of specialisations.

To a query on reservation or preference in government jobs once the ‘Agniveers’ are out of service, Air Marshal Singh said they will be given preference in Central Armed Police Forces like CISF and Assam Rifles once their term is over.

Further, the Agniveer cadets will be given a degree by the Indira Gandhi National Open University after completing four years of service, the Air Marshal said.

According to him, the notification for the recruitment of Agniveer will be out shortly and it will take about 90 days for the selection process.

There will be an all-India level exam, whose details will be available online, he added.

“There will be a total of 250 centres all over India. We are doing it in collaboration with (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing) C-DAC. They’ve been our technology partners for the last couple of years,” Air Marshal Singh said.

Stating that the exam will be conducted on a tried and tested system, he said the examination process works without any fear or favour, where there will be no scope for any intervention.

“It’s absolutely a transparent and fair system where everybody has an equal opportunity to make his mark and get selected,” the IAF officer explained.

Politicians disagree with the move

BJP Lok Sabha member Varun Gandhi on Wednesday raised questions on the newly announced Agnipath scheme for recruitment of soldiers into the armed forces, saying a government is elected for five years then why are youths being given four years to serve the nation.

Taking to Twitter, the Pilibhit MP, who has often been taking a divergent view from the party on various issues, shared a video of youngsters expressing their concerns about the transformative scheme that the government had on Tuesday unveiled for the recruitment of soldiers in the Army, Navy and the Air Force.

Sharing the remuneration details of the new recruitment scheme for defence forces, Varun Gandhi in a tweet invited opinions about this plan while adding that there are many “questions and doubts” in the minds of the youths regarding the Agnipath scheme.

Citing the video of youngsters who responded to his tweet, he said even government is elected for five years then why only youths are being given four years to serve the nation.

Meanwhile, the BJP-led government at the Centre on Wednesday announced a raft of post-retirement employment possibilities for ‘Agniveer’ like a priority in recruitment to the central armed police forces (CAPF) and Assam Rifles.

However, it failed to assuage the concerns of the opposition Congress which warned the scheme will reduce the operational effectiveness of the armed forces.

RLP leader and Nagaur MP Hanuman Beniwal Wednesday opposed the scheme for the recruitment of soldiers on a short-term contractual basis and announced a protest against it on June 16.

He said the government should withdraw the scheme, unveiled on Tuesday, and conduct rallies to recruit youths in the armed forces as earlier.

“On June 16, the party joined by youths will lodge protests at all district headquarters of the state (Rajasthan) against the contractual recruitment in the army and submit memoranda. The Centre should start army recruitment rallies and give two-year age relaxation to the youths,” Beniwal tweeted.

He said there is a strong resentment among the youth against the Center for not holding army recruitment rallies for the last two years and not completing the process of recruitment rallies held earlier “and now due to the plan to recruit in the army on contract”.

The “transformative” scheme called ‘Agnipath’ was announced by the government for the recruitment of soldiers in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force largely on a short-term contractual basis to cut the ballooning salary and pension bills and enable a youthful profile of the armed forces, Under the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, Indian youths will be provided an opportunity to serve in the armed forces as ‘Agniveer’.

Beniwal said the Agneepath Scheme is a “joke” with the youths of the country.

Recruiting young men into the army under the Agneepath scheme to give six-month weapon training and removing them after four years will lead to incidents of a gang war.

The Centre should withdraw the scheme and recruit soldiers in the army as before, he said.

Senior Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda on Wednesday lashed out at the Centre over its “Agnipath” scheme, saying it neither favours the country nor the youth.

He requested the government to reconsider and rationalise it by ensuring permanent jobs to soldiers who complete their four-year term in the armed forces.

“It has far-reaching consequences and these have not been fully considered while preparing this scheme. In the long run, the policy would have a detrimental impact on our national security,” Hooda claimed in a statement here.

“It seems the government is compromising with the security of the country with the intention of saving money on salary, pension, gratuity and halving the strength of the armed forces,” the former Haryana chief minister alleged.

Hooda claimed that youth have become overaged due to the closure of Army recruitment for the past three years due to the Covid pandemic.

“The hopes of the youth who had been waiting for the Army recruitment for the last many years and also those who had given written examination, physical test for Army recruitment and were waiting for the results have been dashed after the implementation of this new policy,” he said.

The Congress leader demanded that the government should consider giving relaxation in age limit to the youth who have become overage in the past three years.

Counting the shortcomings of the scheme, Hooda said 75 per cent of the soldiers who will be recruited in the army as Agniveers will be retired after four years.

“No care has been taken about what will happen to their future. This plan does not live up to the tradition, nature, morals and values of the Army,” he said.

“The period of training prescribed under the scheme is insufficient. Insufficient training can have a negative impact on the capability and effectiveness of the military. With just four years of service, the Army will start being treated as a tourist organisation,” he claimed.

Hooda, who is Leader of Opposition in the Haryana Assembly, said regimental honour is very strong part of the tradition of our armed forces and recruits would lose their attachment to the name, insignia and the emotional connect with the regiment.

“The government is talking about giving a lumpsum amount of Rs 11.71 lakh as a service fund to the Agniveers who will be forced out from the Army after four years while the truth is that only half of this fund belongs to the government and half will be the money of the soldiers’ earnings,” he said.

He asked the government to clearly answer if an Agniveer, who is unemployed after four years of service, will be able to spend his entire life with Rs 11.71 lakh.

“They will get neither pension, military hospital nor canteen facility after four years of service,” he said.

The army of the youth who have completed four years of service will be forced to search for jobs, he said.

“Such unemployed youth who know how to use weapons can easily be misled, which can prove to be a serious threat to society. I urge the government to reconsider this scheme and take a decision keeping in mind the larger interest of the country and society,” he said.

(With PTI Inputs)

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