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PTI

The government on Thursday increased the upper-age limit for recruitment under the "Agnipath" scheme to 23 years from 21 years for the year 2022 amid widespread protests against the new model for enrolment of soldiers into the three services.

Unveiling the scheme on Tuesday, the government had said youngsters between the ages 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," according to a statement issued by the defence ministry.

"Accordingly, the upper age limit for the recruitment process for the Agnipath scheme for 2022 is increased to 23 years," the statement 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, the Navy and the 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 that 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 the "Seva Nidhi Package" and it will be exempted from income tax.

The recruitment process under the Agnipath scheme would start in 90 days.

The scheme is also expected to cut the ballooning salary and pension bills of the armed forces as there will be no entitlement to gratuity and pensionary benefits.

The new recruits will be provided with a non-contributory life insurance cover of Rs 48 lakh for the duration of their engagement period in the armed forces, according to the defence ministry.

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

Facing widespread protests against the scheme, the government asserted that the new model of recruitment will bring new capabilities to the armed forces, strengthen India's overall might and allow youngsters to serve the nation.

In a series of social media posts, the government's information dissemination arm said the scheme will help the military take advantage of the technical skills and fresh thinking of the youngsters.

"The scheme will bring in new dynamism to the armed forces. It will help the forces bring in new capabilities.... It will allow the youths to serve the nation," the Press Information Bureau said in a Facebook post.

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