The three service chiefs welcome the move, call it 'transformational'

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on Tuesday, announced the new recruitment policy for troops in the Indian armed forces. The new scheme called Agnipath—the biggest reform in the recruitment of troops—will change composition of British era regimental culture of the Army that hires youth only from specific castes. Recruitment will be on ‘All India, All Class’ basis and those between the age of 17.5 to 21 will be inducted.

Army Chief General Manoj Pande, IAF Chief Air Marshal V.R. Chaudhari and Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar were present during the announcement of the defence recruitment scheme.

In the future, regiments may comprise inductees from across India and from all classes. So far, Sikh Regiment, Rajput Regiment, Maratha Regiment or Jat Regiment inducted candidates from their respective communities.

Reacting to the new policy, Army Chief General Manoj Pande said 75 per cent of the units are already ‘All India, All Class’ and only a limited number of regiments have class composition. The regimental and class systems are different concepts, he said, adding, “This will widen the recruitment base and provide equal opportunity to all. We will continue to draw strength of regimental bonds irrespective of the class. There will be no compromise on the ethos of Naam Namak Nishaan.”

A regiment fights for its name and pride, a concept on which the Army is based.

Youth between the age of 17.5 and 21 will be inducted into the armed forces - Army, Navy and the Air Force - as 'Agniveers', for our years. More than 46,000 Agniveers will be recruited this year. The first rally of ‘Agniveers' will begin 90 days from today.

The ‘Agniveers’ will be paid ₹4.76 lakh per annum in the first year. This will be hiked to ₹6.92 lakh in the fourth year of service.

Agniveers will be given an attractive customised monthly package, along with Risk and Hardship allowances, as applicable in the three services. On completion of the engagement period of four years, they will be paid one time ‘Seva Nidhi’ package of ₹11.7 lakh.

The ‘Seva Nidhi’ will be exempt from Income Tax. They will not be entitled to gratuity and pensionary benefits. Agniveers will be provided non-contributory Life Insurance Cover of Rs 48 lakh for the duration of their engagement in the Indian armed forces.

During this period of service to the nation, 'Agniveers' will be imparted with various military skills and experience, discipline, physical fitness, leadership qualities, courage and patriotism. Post this stint of four years, 'Agniveers' will transition into the civil society. The skills gained by them will be recognised in a certificate to form part of their unique resume. 'Agniveers', on completion of the four-year tenure, will be mature and self-disciplined to become better version of himself/herself both professionally and personally.

Army chief General Manoj Pande said ‘Anipath' scheme is a transformational reform for the Army and the nation, and aims to bring paradigm changes in human resource management of the Indian Army.

“The scheme, one of the most significant initiative, aims to make the Army a future -ready fighting force, capable of meeting multiple challenges, across the full spectrum of conflict,” General Pande said. He pointed out that this effort complements other ongoing initiatives to transform the Indian Army into a modern, technology-driven, Atmanirbhar and battle-ready force.

Talking about some of the benefits of the scheme, the Army chief said an enhanced youthful profile of the Army—reduction in average age from 32 to 26 years—will be achieved over a period of time. It will increase availability of medically and physically fit personnel at the cutting edge level of field units.

A wider recruitment base will provide equal opportunity to youth from all parts of the country, to join the Army.

“Screening and selection, based on a sound, transparent, fair and robust assessment system will ensure that the Army retains the ‘best of the best’ for a longer service duration. These personnel will form the core of the organisation,” the Army chief said.

Calling 'Agnipath' scheme a “visionary move that would change Indian Navy in multiple dimensions, Navy Chief R. Hari Kumar said, “I think of the concept of 'Agnipath' through the prism of my own experience of four decades in uniform. One of the key lessons that I have learnt in the Navy is that if one does not continuously adapt to the changes on tides and currents, they will most definitely be set off course. The same applies to the armed forces as well in today’s dynamic security scenario, and in this regard, the Agnipath initiative is an essential step to ensure that we stay on course.”

However, a section in the armed forces criticised the scheme saying there was no incentive for young men to join the military for only four years.

Military observers believe that the idea of having soldiers for four years does not tally with the cost of training. The Navy spends around Rs 27 lakh per cadet, the IAF Rs 39 lakh and the Army close to Rs 16 lakh.

Covid-19 halted the Army’s recruitment for over two years. In 2019-2020, the Army recruited 80,572 Jawans; there has been no entry since then. This has left 46 regimental training centres with no fresh batches. Meanwhile, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force have both recruited in the last two years 8,269 and over 13,000 personnel respectively.