Announcements of an expedited recruitment process joined a revised age limit for the 'Agnipath' scheme on Friday, as the government scrambled to quell violence raging across the country against the new plan for the armed forces.
The army will begin the process for recruitment under the scheme within two days by issuing a notification, which will be followed by details of the recruitment drive, senior military officials said on Friday.
The officials said the army has set its target of starting the training of new recruits under the Agnipath scheme by December, news agency PTI reported.
"As far as the question of Agniveers going to recruitment training centres is concerned, the training of first Agniveers will begin this December (in 2022) at the centres. The active service will commence in the middle of 2023," Indian Army chief General Manoj Pande told news agency ANI.
The Air Force, which has said all its recruitment will now go through the Aginpath programme, will kick off the process on by next Friday.
"This change (new age limit) would permit a larger section of the youth to enrol Agniveer. The selection process for the Air Force will start from Jun 24," Indian Air Force Chief VR Chaudhari told PTI. The Air Force chief visited six forward bases to address troops and explain details of the scheme as well.
The announcements came on a day when the massive protests against the 'Agnipath' scheme spread to more states and sparked widespread violence with a 19-year-old dead in Telangana, 12 trains burnt down and several stations vandalised.
The 'Agnipath' scheme was announced by the centre on Tuesday; it led nearly instantly to demonstrations by those opposed to the four-year tenure and drastically curtailed retirement benefits. According to government sources, the situation is being closely monitored.
Efforts to address the disgruntled protesters are being coordinated with state governments and opposition leaders, they said. Although laced with calls for a rollback, opposition leaders like Lalu Yadav and Jayant Chaudhary have appealed for calm.
The measures follow the government's first big give on the Agnipath programme, raising the upper age limit to 23 from 21 - a one-time step that it hopes will placate those who missed out on military recruitment paused for two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"The recruitment process in the army was affected due to the Covid epidemic for the last two years, so Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji, in the Agnipath scheme, sensitive to the needs of the youth, gave a two-year concession in the upper age limit in the first year, from 21 years to 23 years. It is a sensitive decision to take this step," Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted.