India on Tuesday unveiled a "transformative" scheme called Agnipath for the recruitment of soldiers into the Army, the Navy and the Air Force largely on a short-term contractual basis with an aim to cut the ballooning salary and pension bills and enable a youthful profile for the armed forces.
Under the scheme, around 46,000 soldiers will be recruited this year between the ages of 17 and a half years and 21 years into the three services, the defence ministry said.
The recruitment will be based on an "all India, all-class" basis that is set to change the composition of several regiments that recruit youths from specific regions as well as castes such as Rajputs, Jats and Sikhs.
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.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh provided details of the new initiative at a media briefing shortly after the Prime Minister-led Cabinet Committee on Security approved the scheme which the government said would allow "patriotic and motivated" youth to serve in the armed forces for a period of four years.
"Under the Agnipath scheme, Indian youth will be provided an opportunity to serve in the armed forces as Agniveer. This scheme has been brought to strengthen the security of the country. It is a transformative scheme," Singh said in presence of the three service chiefs.
Describing it as a major defence policy reform to usher in a "new era" in the human resource policy of the three services, the defence ministry said the scheme comes into immediate effect and will govern the enrolment for the three services for the recruitment process for personnel below officer rank (PBOR).
He said the infusion of disciplined, motivated and skilled Agniveers back into society after military service, would be a great asset for the nation as it will be a "win-win proposition".
Describing it a major defence policy reform to usher in a "new era" in the human resource policy of the three services, the defence ministry said the scheme comes into immediate effect and will govern the enrolment for the three services, implying that existing framework of employment for soldiers will cease to exist.
It said the armed forces will recruit 46,000 Agniveers this year and the eligible age for selection will be in the range of 17.5 years to 21 years. The recruitment under the scheme is set to kick within 90 days.
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 of 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 'Seva Nidhi Package' and it will be exempted from income tax.
There will be no entitlement to gratuity and pensionary benefits and the new recruits will be provided non-contributory life insurance cover of Rs 48 lakh for the duration of their engagement period in the armed forces.
The four-year tenure under the new scheme will include around two-and-a-half months to six months of training periods.
Upon the completion of four years of service, based on organisational requirement and policies promulgated by the armed forces from time-to-time, Agniveers will be offered an opportunity to apply for permanent enrolment in the armed forces.
"The new process will herald a paradigm shift in our recruitment process and will necessitate changes in the way we impart training to our recruits and soldiers, in enhancing their combat potential," Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande said at the joint press briefing.
He said there will be "no compromise" on physical, medical and professional standards and parameters that were in place for recruitment of soldiers in the Army.
"I want to assure you that during the implementation and stabilisation of the Agnipath scheme, the Army's operational capabilities and preparedness along the borders and the ability to deal with internal security challenges will be fully maintained," he said.
"We will institute a fair, transparent and scientific method in screening the initial intake for four years and applying similar yardsticks to select those who will get re-enrolled," Gen Pande said.
The Army Chief said he was confident that the change will bring "new vigour and confidence" in the force and help in making it stronger and more capable and that a fair, transparent and scientific method will be put in place for screening the initial intake.
"The scheme, one of the most significant initiatives, aims to make the Army a future-ready fighting force, capable of meeting multiple challenges across the full spectrum of conflict," Gen Pande said.
He said an enhanced youthful profile of the Army that is "reduction in average age from 32 to 26 years" will be achieved over a period of time.
The defence minister said that all the Agniveers, after completion of the four-year tenure, will have bright prospects of getting employment in various states and the private sector.
Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said women will also be inducted into armed forces under the new scheme. Officials, however, added that the recruitment of women under the scheme will depend on the needs of the respective services.
Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari said the IAF is looking to tap into the source of dynamic young people and it will train and expose them to the high tech environment and hone their skills for future employment.
"The new scheme therefore gives the IAF an opportunity to draw from the vast pool of talent available in the country," he said.
In a statement, the defence ministry said the scheme will enhance the youthful profile of the Armed Forces and provide a fresh lease of josh and jazba whilst at the same time bringing about a transformational shift towards a more tech savvy armed forces which it said is the need of the hour.
It said the Agniveers would form a distinct rank in the armed forces, different from any other existing ranks.
Lt Gen Anil Puri, additional secretary in the department of military affairs said the new recruitment scheme is set to bring down the average age of a soldier from the current 32 years to 24-26 years in six to seven years.
The enrolment will be undertaken through an online centralised system for all three services with specialised rallies and campus interviews from recognised technical institutes such as industrial training institutes and national skills qualifications framework, among others.
The ministry said enrolment will be based on 'All India All Class'.
It said the applications will be considered in a centralised manner based on objective criteria including performance during their four-year engagement period and up to 25 of each specific batch of Agniveers will be enrolled in regular cadres of the armed forces.
It said the selection will be the exclusive jurisdiction of the armed forces.
Currently, the Army recruits young people under the short service commission for an initial tenure of 10 years which is extendable up to 14 years.
The scheme is aimed at slashing the salary and pension bills of the three services which have been increasing rapidly.
The defence budget of 5,25,166 crore for 2022-23 included Rs 1,19,696 crore for defence pensions.
The allocation for revenue expenditure was Rs 2,33,000 crore. The revenue expenditure includes expenses on payment of salaries and maintenance of establishments.
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