New Delhi: Chiefs of the three Indian military services arrived at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's residence on Tuesday evening amid an ongoing controversy over the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces.

General Manoj Pande of the Indian Army, Admiral Hari Kumar of the Navy, and Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari have over the past week issued statements to allay anxieties of protesting aspirants.

PM Modi, too, while not expressly naming the scheme, has said, "Several decisions look unfair at present. In time, those decisions will help in nation-building." He has also said that it is India's "misfortune" that "many good things brought with good intentions get trapped in political colours".

The government continued defending the scheme on Tuesday, deploying National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, who in an interview to news agency ANI ruled out any possibility of a rollback, in spite of protests. The scheme is for recruiting 'Agniveer' soldiers on four-year contracts without pension, of whom up to 25 per cent may be given regular commission of 15 years thereafter.

Announced by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in the presence of the three service chiefs on June 14, it provides for recruitment of men and women in the age bracket of 17-and-a-half to 21. The Centre later extended the age limit to 23 years for recruitment this year as there has been no recruitment for the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic. The plan is to hire around 45,000 soldiers this year across the three services. The Indian Army has already issued a notification saying registration will begin next month.

NSA Doval argued, "We are going toward contactless wars. Technology is taking over... If we have to prepare for tomorrow, then we cannot do things like we did in the past. India has among the youngest populations in the world, so our armed forces cannot continue to have an average age that is among the highest in the world."

Speaking about the future of Agniveers let go after four years, he asserted that the age of "settling down" is around 25-26 now. "People are speaking of one life-two careers, even three careers now. When recruits from the first batch of Agniveers retire, India will be 5-trillion-dollar economy; industry will need people who have age on their side. These men and women will still be young and won't have family compulsions."

The NSA said it was "injustice" when the soldier was earlier released only after 15 years. "At that time, the soldier could go back to the village, till the land and live on pension. Now the scenario has changed."

He reacted to recent statements that Agniveers will be good plumbers and guards after four years. "We are talking about 22-23-year-olds with army service; compare them with anyone else their age — these Agniveers will have discipline, skills, and will be highly trainable... No avenue is debarred for them. They will have ₹ 11 lakh, with which they can even study further." He cited reservations in other government services, including police forces, announced so far.