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Govt playing with dignity of armed forces, could compromise capability: Cong on 'Agnipath' scheme

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New Delhi, Jun 14: The Congress on Tuesday attacked the Centre over its Agnipath scheme for recruitment of soldiers into the Army, Navy and the Air Force, largely on a short-term contractual basis, alleging the decision could "compromise" the efficiency and operational capability of the three services.

Randeep Surjewala

The main opposition party also expressed concern about the future of the youth once they have completed the four-year contractual service under the scheme.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh provided details of the new initiative to induct fitter and younger troops at a media briefing shortly after the Prime Minister-led Cabinet Committee on Security approved the scheme which the government said would allow "patriotic and motivated" youth to serve in the armed forces for a period of four years.

"Under the 'Agnipath' scheme, Indian youth will be provided an opportunity to serve in the armed forces as 'Agniveer'. This scheme has been brought to strengthen the security of the country. It is a transformative scheme," Singh said in presence of the three service chiefs.

In a statement on the Centre's announcement, Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala claimed military experts, top officials of the three services and experts related to the defence sector have expressed deep concern over the entire scheme.

"More than one army officer and experts have said that this decision of the Modi government is playing with the dignity, tradition, sense of belonging and discipline of the Indian Armed Forces," he said.

"This decision is going to somewhere compromise the efficiency, dexterity, ability, effectiveness and operational capability of the three services," he alleged.

All this is being done when India has two active borders and the country is constantly engaged on the border with Pakistan and China, Surjewala said.

He asked whether the requirement of regular army recruits be fulfilled by four years of contract recruitment.

Is the Modi government not playing with the operational preparedness of the three services, he asked.

Noting that the three armed forces have a special dignity, history, character and tradition of discipline, Surjewala asked whether the four-year contract recruits would adopt this tradition, convention, the spirit of attachment and discipline.

"Will it be possible in such a short span of time?" he wondered.

Most of the posts in the Navy and Air Force are technical and need a specialist cadre, and the duration of training in this specialist cadre is only one and a half to two years and some time is also spent in knowing and understanding the advanced equipment, he said.

"In such a situation, how will you give training and after four years how will you release these trained people? Similarly, there is a need for technical specialists and extensive experience in armored, artillery, tank, gun, engineering equipment, missile inits of the Navy. How will the soldiers, trained in three months and put on contract for a total of four years, meet this requirement?" he said.

The total salary of these contract soldiers is only Rs 30,000, and in contrast, the total salary of a Class 4 or Group D employee of the government of India is Rs 31,000, Surjewala said.

"What kind of soldiers is the Modi government recruiting by paying less than the Class 4 employees of the Government of India?" he asked.

Surjewala said the most important question that arises is what will happen to the future of these youth after four years.

"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," Surjewala 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 said.

Asked about the announcement, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said, "Who will be that youngster (recruit)? Will it be an RSS worker or a BJP worker, it remains to be seen." Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said, "This means teach the soldiers to use guns and leave them in the society. What do you want to do? If you are enlisting in the army then keep them till the age of 35 years. There is a fault in your intention. It is trying to mislead the youth."

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