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Agnipath: What Defence veterans say about the scheme and protest?

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Kolkata, Jun 16: Veteran generals and air commanders have mixed opinions on the protests now rocking parts of the country against the recently launched 'Agnipath' recruitment scheme for the armed forces. While some feel it is an expression of the youths' apprehension regarding their future, others say it may have been orchestrated.

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    Agnipath: What Defence veterans say about the scheme and protest?

    The government announced the scheme on Tuesday to recruit soldiers in the Army, Navy and the Air Force on a contract for four years without pension benefits. It said that 'Agnipath' will bring in fitter and younger troops to tackle future security challenges facing the nation. However, job aspirants in the forces have been demonstrating in several states, putting up blockades on rail tracks and highways.

    Army veteran, Lt Gen (retd) J R Mukherjee, said that the youths may have been protesting out of apprehension about their future as to what will happen when they get out of the forces after four years. According to the 'Agnipath' scheme, 25 per cent of the recruits every year will be retained in the forces while the rest 75 per cent will be back to civilian life after completion of the four-year contract term. Speaking to PTI over the phone, Mukherjee said that he does not "think well of it" and termed the introduction of the 'Agnipath' scheme as a bad decision.

    "You are turning the Indian young men into cannon fodder," he said, questioning how they can be trained in a short period of time when their service is of four years only. Air Chief Marshal (retd) Arup Raha, however, said that the recruitment process starting from 17 and a half years will bring down the age profile of the Armed Forces by four to five years and it will be particularly beneficial for the Army.

    Raha said that the success of the scheme will depend on a sound exit policy wherein those who go out after four years get properly inducted into jobs in the government or private sector. "They should be absorbed into the civil life, in the industry, government agencies, CRPF or the CAPF and the policy must be very clear," he said. Raha said that there may be apprehensions about proficiency loss or operational preparedness owing to induction on a short-term basis but that can be overcome with good leadership.

    "You continue to train and motivate them and you will get results. It will work provided they have good leadership," he said. Raha, a former chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, said that he believes that the new way of recruitment is going to work. "The government has to play a very important role in the exit policy and these people are to be assured of a good career after the four-year period," he said, adding that any scheme is as good as its implementation.

    The protests in Bihar and some other states appear to be slightly orchestrated, he said claiming that rationalisation of the recruitments across the country in the 'Agnipath' programme may have aroused a feeling among some youths that their prospects would be adversely affected.

    Raha said that about one-third of the recruitments in the Army have till now been from three or four states. Around 36,000 contract soldiers coming out every year into civilian life must get proper avenues of getting jobs to secure their future, he said. Major General (retd) Arun Roye, who is part of the think tank CENERS-K, said that the 'Agnipath' scheme should have come as a pilot project to check what is working and what is not and then take a call on implementing it.

    Stating that the protests that even turned violent in some places are owing to insecurity among the youths who wish to join the forces as a lifetime career. "These contractual recruits should be first taken in the services group like ordnance, Army Services Corps and see how it works out," he said. He said that if successful, then only they may be inducted into the combat support arm which deals with communication, road making and finally into the combat units like infantry. Roye said that the homogeneity built over a long period in a unit cannot be done in a few years. PTI

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