Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande on Friday said the government's decision to raise the upper age limit to 23 years from 21 under the 'Agnipath' scheme for 2022 will provide an opportunity to the youths who were preparing to join the force but couldn't be recruited due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the last two years.

Gen Pande said the decision of the government has been received by the Army to grant the one-time waiver and that the recruitment process will be announced shortly. The Chief of Army Staff also called upon the youth to avail the opportunity to join the Army as 'Agniveers'.

"The decision of the government has been received to grant a one-time waiver, increasing the entry age of recruitment to 23 years, for the recruitment cycle of 2022," the Army Chief said in a statement.

"This decision will provide an opportunity for many of our young, energetic and patriotic youth who, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, were preparing to join the recruitment rallies, which couldn't be completed in the last two years due to COVID restrictions," he said.

"The schedule of recruitment process will be announced shortly. We call upon our youth to avail this opportunity for joining the Indian Army as Agniveers," Gen Pande said.

The government on Thursday night raised the upper age limit for recruitment under the 'Agnipath' scheme to 23 years from 21 for 2022 amid widespread protest against the new model for enrolment of soldiers into the three services.

Unveiling the scheme on Tuesday, the government said youths between the age of 17 and-a-half and 21 years would be inducted for a four-year tenure while 25 per cent of the recruits will be retained for regular service.

"Cognisant of the fact that it has not been possible to undertake the recruitment during the last two years, the government has decided that a one-time waiver shall be granted for the proposed recruitment cycle for 2022," a statement by the defence ministry said.

"Accordingly, the upper age limit for the recruitment process for Agnipath scheme for 2022 is increased to 23 years," it said.

Several states including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Jharkhand have witnessed protests against the new scheme.

A number of opposition political parties and a significant number of military experts have also slammed the scheme saying it will adversely impact the functioning of the armed forces.

The new scheme for the recruitment of soldiers in the Army, Navy and Air Force was projected by the government as a major overhaul of the decades-old selection process to enhance the youthful profile of the three services.

After the scheme was rolled out, the Army said it would ensure an enhanced youthful profile of the force and result in a "reduction in the average age from 32 to 26 years over a period of time.

The three service chiefs have also strongly backed the scheme and said it was unveiled after over two years of deliberations.

Military officials said with the infusion of technology and revamping of the training programme, the armed forces would ensure that the personnel inducted under the scheme have the same skill sets which are required to meet the operational challenges.

The monthly salary of an 'Agniveer' in the first year of employment would be Rs 30,000 and the in-hand amount would be Rs 21,000 as Rs 9,000 would go to a corpus with an equal contribution from the government.

Subsequently, the monthly salary in the second, third and fourth year will be Rs 33,000, Rs 36,500 and Rs 40,000.

Each 'Agniveer' will get an amount of Rs 11.71 lakh as 'Seva Nidhi Package' and it will be exempted from income tax.

The four-year tenure under the new scheme will include around two-and-half months to six months of training periods.