By Aftab Ahmed
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Enrolment under India’s new armed services recruitment plan will commence this month, top defence officials said on Sunday, despite protests against a scheme that will drastically cut tenure and offer fewer service benefits at the end of contract.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on June 14 set out a policy called Agnipath, or “path of fire”, designed to bring more people into the military on four-year contracts to lower the average age of India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces.
The scheme sparked violent protests in northern and eastern parts of the country, with thousands of young men attacking train coaches, burning tyres and clashing with officials, after which the government tweaked some of the rules.
The plan has also received criticism from some defence experts, who say it could weaken the structure of the forces and have serious ramifications for national security in a country which shares often-tense borders with Pakistan and China.
But top defence officials say Agnipath is a transformational reform implemented to revamp security infrastructure.
“Why should it be rolled back? This was a long-pending reform,” Lieutenant General Anil Puri, additional secretary in the defence ministry, told reporters in New Delhi.
Under Agnipath, 46,000 cadets will be recruited this year, and only 25% will be kept on at the end of their four-year terms. The cadets will go through training for six months and will then get deployed for 3-1/2 years.
One of the biggest concerns is the fate of the soldiers after they finish their term, but Puri said the government will ensure those enrolled under the scheme find suitable jobs when they are discharged.
He said anyone participating in violent protests would not qualify for the defence services under the scheme.
On Sunday the federal home ministry said it would reserve 10% of vacancies in the paramilitary forces and the Assam Rifles, a unit in the Indian army, for those who have passed out of the army under the scheme, while the defence ministry said it would reserve 10% of its vacancies for those who have completed the scheme.
(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Additional reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by David Holmes)