Agnipath’s intake “may grow” from 46,000 per year in the first 4 years to 125,000 per year

Doubling down on the implementation of the “Agnipath Yojana” recruitment scheme, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said on Saturday that the number of volunteers recruited under the scheme would increase from 46,000 volunteers in each of the first four years to 90,000 volunteers in the fifth year, and 125,000 in the sixth year.

The trajectory of these numbers will transform the Indian Army in about 15 years into a largely volunteer force, with an average age of 27.

“In times to come, [the soldier’s average age] will go down to 26 years from 32 years. In six-seven years we will be 27 years on average,” said Lt. Gen. Anil Puri, additional secretary at the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), whom the MoD sent on television on Saturday to defend the Agnipath Yojana .

Emphasizing that Agnipath was not about reducing personnel costs, Puri said the main goal of the program was to make the military younger, dynamic and tech-savvy.

“Don’t take this as a financial exercise. Instead, focus on the Agniveers [the volunteers recruited under ‘Agnipath] and young people,” said Puri, adding, “There is no financial chapter in this project because [reducing manpower cost] is not the purpose of the exercise.

The induction of women into the Agnipath program would be gradual, Puri said, and women would not be allowed in combat roles.

ALSO READ: Railways cancel 369 trains in parts of India as Agnipath protests continue

The general explained why the Army believes Agnipath will dramatically improve the quality of personnel joining the three services: “There are 25 volunteers for every vacancy in the army, navy and air force. A second cut will be imposed at four years of service [when 75 per cent of a year’s intake is discharged from service]. This is the requirement of the time. The country deserved the best. Its soldiers must be adaptable to modern technology.

Puri also elaborated on the skills of volunteers who join Agnipath. “We will give 10th class recruits a 12th class certificate. And recruits who passed the 12th class will graduate,” he said.

Asked about the subjects taught to volunteer recruits, Puri cited “physical education” as a skill for which credit would be given; and “supply chain management”, to learn how to deliver ammunition trucks to the forward line of troops. Credits would also be awarded for learning how to handle sophisticated equipment, such as specialized vehicles and weapons.

As street violence continued over the perception that the Agnipath scheme would result in the loss of employment opportunities, the government called on the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and industry to promise preferential employment to Agniveers who had completed their term of service.

The MHA tweeted on Saturday: “MHA decides to set aside 10% vacancies for recruitment into the CAPFs (Central Armed Police Force) and Assam Rifles for Agniveers, completing four years under the Agnipath scheme.”

The MHA also tweeted that it would “grant three years of relaxation beyond the prescribed upper age limit, to Agniveers for recruitment into the CAPFs and Assam Rifles. Additionally, for the first batch of Agniveers, the age relaxation will be 5 years beyond the prescribed upper age limit.

This constitutes a significant reversal by the MHA after decades of resistance to filling vacancies for retired Department of Defense personnel in CAPF recruitment.

Puri said Agniveers who joined paramilitary and police forces would be effective with very little training. The MHA would only have to put them through a graduation school, where they would only need a two to three week orientation.

In the face of ongoing protests, the Ministry of Defense also announced a 10% quota in ministry jobs, split between the coast guard and civilian defense posts and the 16 public sector defense companies. This would be in addition to existing reservations for veterans.

Reach industry

The government has also approached private industry to fill vacancies with retired Agniveers. Anurag Jain, Secretary of the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) spoke with 85 industries including Bharat Forge, Ambani Group and foreign companies such as Apple for job reservations to Retired Agniveers.

ALSO READ: Rajnath Singh meets senior Army, Navy and IAF brass amid Agnipath protest

“Industry leaders have told the government, ‘You give us discipline, we’ll do the finishing school,’ so hiring Agnipath graduates won’t be a problem,” Puri said.

Apple’s Indian chief Virat Bhatia told Jain, “We’re going to assemble an Apple (computer) in two months with these guys,” according to Puri.

The general issued a stern warning against street violence led by young people worried about potential job losses.

“In the next 48 hours, recruitment will begin. Young people need [get off the streets] and get their certificates and get fit [since Covid-19 lockdowns have restricted their fitness levels]”, Puri said. “We do not support arson in any way.”

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