Agniveers who join the Indian Armed Forces through the newly launched Agnipath recruitment scheme will be continuously assessed over four years on multiple objective and subjective parameters before a final merit list is drawn for their selection as permanent soldiers, Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen BS Raju told News18.
In an exclusive interview, the decorated officer sought to allay fears of a non-transparent selection process for the 25 per cent of the Agniveers, who would be selected to serve in the military beyond four years.
“We understand that at the end of four years, the Agniveer must feel confident that he has gone through a transparent process. We have made very specific provisions for testing recruits in each of the arms and services. This will be a continuous assessment,” he said.
Explaining how the Army would ensure that the selection of Agniveers as permanent recruits can be carried out objectively, without favouritism and unhealthy competition, Lt Gen Raju said an Agniveer will have his first assessment at the end of his six-month training period.
“Then at the end of each year, he will be assessed on the basis of various parameters such as his physical fitness, firing skills and other drills,” he said, adding that there would be some subjective assessment, too, on parameters like attitude and aptitude by the people with whom he would interact, such as his platoon commander, company commander and the commanding officer.
“All this will be put together and at the end of the year, it will be collated and uploaded into the system after which there will be no human intervention. The same process will be followed at the end of the second and third year and at the end of four years, the entire data will be put together and then the merit list will be drawn,” he said. “It will give us the confidence too that we are selecting the best of the soldiers.”
Lt Gen Raju said that through his training period, an Agniveer will be counselled and will be given performance appraisals.
“The whole idea is of continuous assessment,” he said, adding that it will be spread across the assessment period, including separate weightage for the training period and for the years thereafter.
Asked about the induction of women soldiers into the Army as Agniveers, he said women recruits will be joining the Army in the Corps of Military Police (CMP) through the Agnipath scheme. Like other recruitments, recruitment of women to the CMP has been on hold for two years after the initial batches.
‘FOUR YEARS ENOUGH FOR ADEQUATE TRAINING’
Talking about their training as soldiers, Lt Gen Raju said that four years is a long time for their training.
He said they will be put through intense six-month training and, based on requirements, the battalion commander will provide each individual with the requisite training to develop varied skill sets.
“He will be trained enough so that the operational requirement of the battalion is met and we can go to war tomorrow with the same person,” he said, adding that for an advanced course, like the one needed to become an instructor, an Agniveer can be upskilled further after four years.
“Upskilling will happen through four years, but the specialised training to become, say an instructor, will be imparted post four years,” he said.
‘PROJECT BEING ROLLED OUT IN A CONTROLLED MANNER’
Lt Gen Raju said the way the Agnipath project is being rolled out is in a “very controlled manner”, and that’s the reason it can be deemed as a pilot project.
“This will also give us the time to assess it better and make changes if required. No change might be needed immediately, but along the way, if some tweaking is required, it can be done,” he said. He emphasised that a provision exists for the defence minister to seek any further change in the scheme.
Despite the stiff resistance from the masses that the scheme met with on its announcement, the VCOAS said that there is no doubt that people will come in large numbers to join the Armed Forces like always.
“There will be a positive response to the whole programme,” he said.
Talking about the expenditure and the savings from the implementation of the scheme, he said what was prioritised instead was the management of the human capital and the changes required in getting a younger age profile, the parameters of the selection and training systems, and other such issues.
He said no immediate revenue expenditure will be incurred under the scheme as the Army’s training capacity is more than the numbers recruited.
“There may be a requirement to increase the training capacity after the 6th or 7th year, and infrastructure could be scaled up based on the assessment of the situation then,” he said.
ON REDUCING MANPOWER
Lt Gen Raju said the Army will make up for manpower shortage through the scheme.
“There was no recruitment in the last two years and that had brought down some strength. Now, we are recruiting a particular number of recruits with an exit policy. This will have some implications on the overall strength, but as we go along, we will increase the numbers so that the Army’s strength is maintained at the desired level,” he said.
ON AGNIVEER SKILL CERTIFICATE
The senior Army officer said that for those joining the force with a diploma, additional skill qualifications they acquire during the programme will make them eligible for a degree course.
He said the Agniveers will collect credit points during their tenure in the military, which can be later redeemed to complete their graduation within fewer years.
Asked how the Army would convince an Indian rural youth to join the force without the guarantee of a permanent job and pension, he said the scheme is designed in a way to give the youth an opportunity to join the Armed Forces for four years, to go through the rigours of serving in the Army, and enjoy the pleasure of serving the nation.
“They will be financially compensated during this tenure, get a lump sum amount from the Seva Nidhi package at the end of their tenure, and a plethora of career avenues to choose from,” he said.