As the violent protests continued across states, the Central government on Thursday night brought a major change in the scheme and raised the age limit for the ‘Agnipath’ army recruitment scheme to 23 from 21.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said the decision has been taken as no recruitment had taken place in the last two years. Notably, the age waiver will be given only one time for the proposed recruitment cycle for 2022. Previously, the age limit for new recruits under the Agnipath scheme was fixed at 17-and-a-half to 21 years.
“The Centre grants one-time waiver in the upper age limit for Agnipath scheme by extending it to 23 years from 21 years. The decision has been taken as no recruitment had taken place in the last two years,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
“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,” the ministry further added.
Earlier in the day, violent protests erupted across states as the Central government announced an overhaul of recruitment for India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces to bring down the average age of personnel and reduce pension expenditure. The protests were witnessed in 10 states, including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Delhi.
The upper entry age limit of 21 years was among the issues that the protesters had raised against the recruitment scheme.
As per the announcement from the Centre, the new system will bring in men and women between the ages of 17-and-a-half and 21 for a four-year tenure, with only a quarter retained for longer periods.
Earlier, the soldiers have been recruited by the army, navy and air force separately and they enter service for up to 17 years for the lowest ranks.
As part of the Agnipath scheme, the Army is set to induct around 40,000 soldiers, the Navy 3,000 sailors, and the IAF 3,000 airmen in the first year.
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 the Army, the Navy and the 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.
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.