The government declared late Thursday night that the upper age limit for candidates will be increased to 23 from 21 as a one-time waiver, amid rising violent protests against the radical new Agnipath scheme to enlist soldiers for only four years.
The administration also stated that the military’s intake in the coming years will be roughly quadruple what it is now, with many options open to those who will be demobilised following their four-year terms.
The entry age for all new recruits in the armed forces was regulated at 17.5 to 21 years of age following the start of the Agnipath scheme, according to the defence ministry.
Because recruiting rallies had proved impossible for the previous two years, the government decided to offer a one-time waiver for the anticipated recruitment cycle for 2022, in which 46,000 Agniveers will be recruited. “As a result, the upper age limit for the Agnipath scheme recruitment process for 2022 has been increased to 23 years,” the MoD said.
Protests have erupted in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Uttarakhand, where the Army, IAF, and Navy have reduced their intake to just 46,000 this year, with an age restriction of 17.5 to 21 years, and that too for four-year terms with no pensionary or ex-servicemen benefits.
Every year, the 12-lakh Army alone would recruit over 50,000 soldiers, with the number reaching 80,572 when recruitment rallies were held for the final time in 2019-2020. Despite the Army’s recruitment suspension in 2020-21 and 2021-22, the IAF enrolled 13,032 airmen and the Navy 8,269 sailors in the previous two years.
Lt-General B S Raju, the Army’s vice-chief, told TOI on Wednesday that the Agnipath initiative would gradually increase annual recruitment from 40,000 Agniveers this year to 1.2 lakh by the seventh or eighth year, and then 1.6 lakh by the tenth or eleventh year. The ultimate goal is for regular cadre soldiers and Agniveers to be split 50:50.
In a “Myths vs Facts” document issued on Thursday, the government said it was a myth that the future of Agniveers being demobilised – 75% from every batch — would be insecure. “For those wishing to be entrepreneurs, they will get a financial package (Seva Nidhi exit package of Rs 11.71 lakh) and bank loan schemes,” an official said.
“For those wishing to study further, they will be given class XII equivalent certificates and bridging course for further studies. And those wishing to obtain jobs will be given priority in CAPFs and state police forces. Several avenues are also being opened up for them in other sectors,” he added.
The government also dismissed worries that the annual demobilisation of thousands of combat-trained teenagers would lead to societal militarization. “This is a betrayal of the Indian armed services’ ethos and values.” Young people who have served in the military for four years will be loyal to their country for the rest of their lives. Thousands of people are retiring from the military today, but no one has joined anti-national forces, according to the paper.
“Such short term enlistment system exists in most nations and thus is already tested out and deemed best practise for youthful and nimble Army,” it said in response to accusations that the induction of Agniveers will have an influence on the armed forces’ operational capability.
“In the first year, the number of Agniveers recruited would make up barely 3% of the armed forces.” In addition, the Agniveers’ performance will be evaluated before they are re-inducted into the Army after four years. As a result, the Army will receive professionals who have been tested and proven in supervisory positions,” it added.