The remarks are at variance with his party, which has criticised the government over the scheme and has demanded that it should be kept in abeyance

NEW DELHI: Congress leader and MP Manish Tewari on Thursday said the new Agnipath scheme is a much-needed reform in the right direction while noting that the armed forces should not be an employment guarantee program.

The government on Tuesday unveiled the scheme for the recruitment of soldiers in the Army, Navy and the Air Force largely on a four-year short-term contractual basis, in a major overhaul of the decades-old selection process.

"This is a reform which is much-needed and is a reform in the right direction," Tewari said.

"I do empathise with youth who have concerns over Agnipath recruitment Process. Reality is India needs a younger armed force with lighter human footprint savvy on technology, equipped with state of art weaponry."

"Armed forces of Union shouldn't be an employment guarantee programme," he also said in a tweet.

The remarks are at variance with his party, which has criticised the government over the scheme and has demanded that it should be kept in abeyance and the next step should be taken after holding wider consultations with experts and others.

Under the scheme, youths between the ages of 17 and a half and 21 years will be inducted into the three services.

After completion of the four-year tenure, the scheme provides for retaining 25 per cent of the recruits for regular service.

The government has said the new model will not only bring in new capabilities to the armed forces but will also open up avenues for the youth in the private sector.

Congress on Thursday hit out at the government over the Agnipath scheme for recruitment of soldiers on a short-term basis, saying it carries multiple risks and subverts the longstanding traditions and ethos of the armed forces, and may turn out to be a case of "penny-wise and security foolish".

Congress leader P Chidambaram said the government should thus keep the scheme in abeyance and hold wide consultations and then take further action on it.

Former party chief Rahul Gandhi urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to listen to the voice of unemployed youths and not take 'Agnipareeksha (trial by fire)' of their patience by making them walk on Agnipath.

"No rank, no pension, no direct recruitment for 2 years, no stable future after four years, no respect shown by the government for the army," Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi, attacking the Centre over the scheme.

"Listen to the voice of unemployed youths of the country, don't take 'Agnipareeksha' of their patience by making them walk on 'Agnipath', Mr. prime minister," he said.

Chidambaram, who addressed a joint press conference with party leaders Ajay Maken, Sachin Pilot and Pawan Khera, said retired defence officers have almost unanimously opposed the scheme, and he believes that many serving officers share the same view.

"The Agnipath scheme is controversial, carries multiple risks, subverts the long-standing traditions and ethos of the armed forces and there is no guarantee that the soldiers recruited under the scheme will be better trained and motivated to defend the country," Chidambaram said in a statement.

"It is our duty to warn the country of the consequences of a hastily drawn up scheme. We would urge the government to keep the Agnipath scheme in abeyance, hold wide consultations with serving and retired officers, and address the issues of quality, efficiency and economy without compromising on any of the three considerations," he said.

"It appears to us that the scheme makes a mockery of training; inducts into the defence forces an ill-trained and ill-motivated soldier; and discharges a disappointed and unhappy ex-soldier into the society," Chidambaram said, adding that one does not inculcate qualities in six months of training and they are treating it as "boy scout training".

The stated objective of savings on the pension bill is a weak argument and has not been established beyond doubt, he said, adding that on the other hand, the short six-month period of training and unusually short 42-month period of service may have negative consequences on quality, efficiency and effectiveness.

"We fear that the scheme may turn out to be a case of 'penny wise and security foolish'," he said.

Maken said this scheme is a "cruel joke" with the the youth of the country, as 62.29 lakh vacant posts in all government departments and the Indian army alone has 2.55 lakh, around one lakh posts are lying vacant in central armed police, 5.31 lakh posts are vacant in state police and 2.66 lakh in the Railways.

"When they are no inspired enough are not happy and their future not secured, how will our armed forces be able to protect our borders," he said, adding that we want to assure the youth that they should not lose hope and the Congress party will stand with them in their fight.

Pilot said the Agnipath scheme of the government has attracted widespread opposition and there are protests across the country.

"We can't afford to play with future of our youth and nor can we afford to risk the functionality and effectiveness of our armed forces."

He said the government should first clear backlog as youth are getting impatient.

"They have tried to win the hearts of youth with this short-term benefits.

" Chidambaram said several distinguished defence officers have pointed out that a fighting soldier must take pride in his unit, must be willing to lay down his life for his country and comrades, must not be risk averse and must be capable of exhibiting leadership.

"They fear that each one of these objectives will be in jeopardy under the scheme."

The Congress leader said announcements by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Education on post-discharge opportunities appear to be after-thoughts.

"They show that the scheme was poorly conceived and hastily drawn up. A major change in the mode of recruitment should have been examined thoroughly and a pilot scheme should have been tried and tested. Nothing of that sort has been done," he said.

There is no indication that the alternatives were examined, he said, as suggested by experts.

"Given the situation on our borders," the former home minister said, "it is imperative that we have soldiers in our defence forces who are young, well-trained, motivated, happy, satisfied and assured of their future."

The Agnipath scheme does not advance any of these objectives, he claimed.

Chidambaram said the government should come out with a status paper on what the situation is and what the problems are, without giving any answers and then share it with serving and retired officers and maybe with the opposition parties and ask for suggestions.

The government has claimed that there is no change in the Army recruitment system under the Agnipath scheme and the number of personnel to be recruited in the first year of its rollout would only make up to three percent of the armed forces.

There have been widespread protests against the new model of Army recruitment.

The government unveiled Agnipath on Tuesday -- calling it a "transformative" scheme.