Defence Ministry on Thursday said government granted one-time waiver in the upper age limit for 'Agnipath' scheme by extending it to 23 years from 21 years. The decision has been taken as no recruitment had taken place in the last two years, the ministry said at a time when nationwide protests against the scheme were seen in north India.
The government had unveiled the scheme on Tuesday that will overhaul the decades-old selection process to bring in fitter and younger troops to tackle future security challenges facing the nation.
Around 46,000 soldiers will be recruited this year between the ages of 17 and a half years and 21 years (23 years for 2022) into the Army, Navy and the Air Force.
The Army will recruit 40,000 soldiers under this scheme, and the process would commence within three months.
The BJP-led government at the Centre on Wednesday announced a raft of post-retirement employment possibilities for 'Agniveer' like priority in recruitment to the central armed police forces (CAPF) and Assam rifles.
However, it failed to assuage the concerns of the opposition Congress which warned the scheme will reduce the operational effectiveness of the armed forces.
The main opposition party had on Tuesday expressed concern about the future of the youth once they have completed the four-year contractual service under the scheme.
"After four years, at the age of 22 to 25, how will these youths build their future without any additional qualifications? Isn't it right that when a regular soldier also returns home after 15 years of service, most of the time he gets only a job as a guard or security guard in a bank? So what will this 23 to 25 year old youth do after four years of contract service," Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had asked.
"Will his life not be in a limbo and will he be attracted towards some wrong path in search of livelihood and good life? Will the Modi government respond to these concerns," he had said articulating the displeasure of his party over the scheme.
The Army, Navy and Air Force will sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with IGNOU for implementation of the scheme.
"The degree programme will recognise in-service training received by Agniveers as credits for graduation and will open up opportunities for them to pursue civilian careers of their choice. Under the programme, 50 per cent of the credits required for a graduate degree will come from skill training -- both technical and non-technical, received by the Agniveers," the MoE official said.
The remaining 50 per cent credits will come from a basket of courses that cover a wide variety of subjects like languages, Economics, History, Political Science, Public Administration, Sociology, Mathematics, Education, Commerce, Tourism, Vocational Studies, Agriculture, 'Jyotish' and ability enhancement courses on Environmental Studies and English Communication Skills.
The programme is aligned with the norms of University Grants Commission (UGC), the National Credit Framework and National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF) as mandated under the new National Education Policy (NEP). The framework of the programme has been duly recognised by the regulatory bodies -- All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET) and UGC.
"The Indian Army will recruit 25,000 'Agniveers' in the next 180 days and the process for recruitment of the remaining 15,000 will begin a month after that," Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt General B S Raju had told PTI.
He said the recruitment drive will be conducted in all 773 districts across the country.
Protests erupted in Bihar over the 'Agnipath' scheme, which envisages recruitment of soldiers for a short four-year period and retirement of most without pension.
Army aspirants disrupted rail and road traffic in several parts of the state, including in Buxar district, where more than 100 young men stormed the railway station and squatted on the tracks, blocking the onward journey of Patna-bound Janshatabdi Express for nearly 30 minutes.