The central government’s new Agnipath scheme for short-term recruitment of soldiers in the armed forces has not yet gained unanimous acceptance among veterans and army aspirants, but top officials in paramilitary forces say the move will be of immense benefit to the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs).
The scheme proposes the recruitment of soldiers in the Army, Navy and the Air Force on a contractual basis for a four-year-period. Seen largely as a major overhaul of the decades-old selection process to bring in fitter and younger troops, Agnipath will facilitate the recruitment of around 46,000 soldiers between the ages of 17.5 and 21 into the three services.
After completion of the four-year tenure, the scheme provides for retaining 25% of each specific batch for regular service, based on organisational requirements and policies promulgated by the armed forces from time to time. The four-year tenure under the new scheme will include around six months to eight months of training.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has announced that priority will be given to the Agnipath recruits, known as ‘Agniveers’, for recruitment into the CAPFs post their four-year tenure with the Army, Navy or Air Force. The forces that make up the CAPF are Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), National Security Guard (NSG) and Special Protection Group (SPG).
Speaking to News18, top officials said the Agniveers can be deployed in the CAPFs with basic training since they would already have received military training during the Agnipath tenure.
Officials said details are being worked out on how the Agniveers would be recruited into the CAPFs, adding that they would get relaxation in recruitment parameters like age and qualification.
“It will be a win-win situation for CAPFs as the forces will get trained staff. The period of training would be shorter, discipline would not be an issue and (Agniveers) can be deployed immediately after giving basic training. The government will also tie up with IGNOU to help them add to their qualification. So by the time they complete their tenure in the armed forces, many of them would be graduated and it will beneficial for CAPFs. Getting a young lot from defence forces would benefit CAPFs,” a D-G level official told News18.
Explaining how the CAPFs will give priority to Agniveers, another top official said: “It is too early to say, but the home ministry, after discussion with Central Armed Police Forces, may introduce age relaxation, early promotion and counting their tenure in armed forces as experience. The Agnipath tenures in the armed forces will be taken into consideration and make them eligible for early promotion in CAPFs. A plan will be rolled out on what kind of benefits they will get in CAPFs.”
For recruitment at lower levels, a candidate has to currently go through various physical tests apart from written tests. The government is also keen to introduce the army psychological test. Post-recruitment, the soldiers are put through long training sessions in various CAPFs academies.
Currently, there are close to 1.25 lakh vacancies in CAPFs, but recruitment has slowed down in the last five years. Fewer candidates have been recruited, but more soldiers have been retiring every year.
Scepticism Over the Scheme
While top officials have hailed Agnipath has a win-win for CAPFs, veterans say the recruitment of Agniveers could be a big challenge.
According to MP Nathanael, former CRPF I-G, the central armed police forces would have to settle for soldiers rejected by the Army, Navy and Air Force.
“Army, Navy and Air Force will induct only 25% of them and the other 75% will be thrown out. CAPFs will recruit out of those rejected 75%, so basically CAPFs will be getting the rejected lot of defence forces. This will increase friction among the jawans. I think it is a loss for CAPF,” he said.
Nathanael said another point of friction could be the issue of promotions. With the process being stalled for some time, soldiers in the CAPFs have been awaiting promotions. If the Agnipath tenure is counted as experience, Agniveers recruited into CAPFs will be eligible for promotions earlier. The former CRPF I-G also pointed out that the training for defence forces and CAPFs has to be different given that their roles are different.
“The armed forces have a different role and CAPFs have a different role. The tough training in defence forces will not be of any use in CAPFs. Here, we have to deal with the public, not an enemy like in the Army. We need staff who can perform their duty in public and can deal with common people. Their training in defence forces will not give us any benefits,” Nathanael told News18.