The Indian government on Saturday announced a 10% reservation for Agniveers, youngsters who will be recruited to the military for four years through the Agnipath scheme, in the recruitment of CAPFs and Assam Rifles once they complete their four-year contract.
The announcement comes amid the raging protest against the Agnipath scheme announced by the Centre on Tuesday.
The Union home ministry has also decided to give three years of age relaxation beyond the prescribed upper age limit to Agniveers for recruitment in CAPFs and Assam Rifles, while the first batch of Agniveer will get a relaxation of 5 years beyond the prescribed upper age limit, the home ministry said.
The Centre earlier assured that the future of the Agniveers is not insecure though only 25% of the force will be retained after four years as the rest will get priority in other recruitments.
Several BJP-ruled states including Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana have already announced that they will give priority to Agniveers in their state police recruitment.
Agnipath, announced by the government on June 14, seeks to recruit soldiers for only four years with a provision to retain 25% of them for 15 more years after another round of screening.
It is expected to bring down the average age of a soldier in the armed forces from the current 32 years to 24-26 years over the next six to seven years.
To be sure, the government has said that Agniveers will be absorbed on priority in other central security forces and be eligible for government jobs such as in the railways. The three service chiefs also mounted a defence of the recruitment model, arguing that it presented an opportunity to youth to serve the nation, and military service would equip them with skills for subsequent employment.
However, the assurances have cut no ice with defence aspirants such as Kumar and Singh who feel they have got short shrift from the government.
Soldiers recruited through the legacy recruitment system serve the armed forces for about 20 years before they retire in their late 30s with a pension. Only 25% of the Agniveers retained in service will get a pension.
Army chief General Manoj Pande said that the youth had perhaps not fully understood the contents and implications of Agnipath, and that led to apprehensions over the scheme. Once they understand, they will realise it is good for them, he added.
However, several veterans said the government must take a fresh look at the scheme before rolling it out, and address the concerns flagged by the defence aspirants.
The duration of service under Agnipath should be raised from four to eight years to give them "a fair chance" to demonstrate their capabilities, and there should be no ambiguity about the resettlement of Agniveers, said military affairs expert Lieutenant General Shokin Chauhan (retd).
"Four years is too little a time to assess these young men. A rifleman is promoted to lance naik after eight years of service. That model could be followed and those who do not make it to lance naik could be released. It's important for a soldier to know why he did not make it, and where he stands in the system," he added.
The far-reaching and hotly debated recruitment reform will change the composition of several British-era regiments that recruited soldiers from specific castes such as Jats, Rajputs and Sikhs and create an All-India, All-Class system.
The scheme has only been announced and not rolled out, said military affairs expert Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd). "It should be implemented in the first year as a pilot project and held in abeyance for the following three years. The pros and cons should be fully reviewed. The scheme can be implemented after it has been refined to address all issues," he added.
Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said deliberations over the model were carried out for two years. He added that the possibility of launching a pilot project was considered but was not pursued as it would have created two classes of recruits, led to issues related to pay and seniority, and opened the floodgates of litigation.