Exclusive: 'Most people have accepted Agnipath; response to Agniveer is overwhelming'
"Once the scheme was understood in its entirety, most people have accepted it. And the response to the registration process is proof," Air Marshal Suraj Kumar Jha, Air Officer-in-Charge Personnel for the IAF, said in an exclusive conversation with Asianet News Resident Editor Prashant Reghuvamsom.
Protests against the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces were either out of ignorance or was manipulated or because of certain vested interests, Air Marshal Suraj Kumar Jha, Air Officer-in-Charge Personnel for the IAF, said in an exclusive conversation with Asianet News Resident Editor Prashant Reghuvamsom.
"You would have seen that the protests died down as quickly as they came up. Once the scheme was understood in its entirety, most people have accepted it. And the response to the registration process is proof," the officer said.
When asked about the kind of response that the Agniveer scheme had received, Air Marshal Jha said: "The interest shown by the youth for Agniveer Vayu has been overwhelming. In just about four days, we have received more than 1.5 lakh registrations and we have more than a week to go."
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Detailing the transformation that the scheme will bring about in the IAF, the officer said, "Through the Agniveer Vayus, we are expecting to reduce the age profile of our main combatant force, the personnel below the officer rank. Secondly, we are training them in a different manner, wherein we will utilise their inherent tech-savvy traits. The youth today is very familiar with computers and smartphones. We will utilise these skills of theirs. They are also more adaptive to modern technology. So we will channelise them in a certain manner for overall advantage of the IAF."
The Kargil observation
The deliberations on the Agnipath recruitment scheme took off from an action point of the Kargil committee report -- about reducing the age profile of the forces.
Going into detail on the issues that were identified after the Kargil war, Air Marshal Jha, who was part of the war, said: "I was one of the frontline pilots during the Kargil war. We were flying 24x7. Our readyness times were very short. So there was no shortcoming in the field. However, the Kargil review committee took a much broader view of the entire Kargil episode."
"One of their key recommendations was that there was a recommendation to reduce the age profile of people in the armed forces. And Agnipath has emanated from that observation," he added.
A scheme three decades in the making?
When asked about why there was a delay in rolling out the Agnipath scheme considering that the talks about such a scheme had been on since 1984, the senior officer said: "You would have realised in the last few weeks ever since the scheme came out that this is a revolutionary idea. It is breaking a lot of old perceptions. The divided opinions in the early days also showed how the minds were fixed to a certain pattern. After all, the armed forces in the neighbourhood have operated on a certain pattern for so many years. So any such revolutionary change has to go through va ery deep analysis. At an opportune moment, only then can such scheme be launched. While it has been in the making for 30 years, the form only got crystallised in the last few months."
He went on to reject the criticism from the opposition parties and leaders that the scheme was brought out without enough deliberations.
"In a big democracy like India, it may not be possible to consult each and every person or open such schemes to general public comments. That's because this is something that the public may not have seen. And they may view it in a very different manner. However, internally and with all stakeholders at multiple levels, including the affected people, the decision-makers, the people who have to operate in the field; we have had a series of consultations," Air Marshal Jha said.
Why a four-year term for Agniveers?
When asked why the period of service for Agniveers was reduced to four years, the officer said, "Four years is a very good period. We are taking between 17.5 and 21 (Age group), which means that the oldest person would go out at 25. Only for this year, we have made it 23, which means the oldest person to go out will be at 27. If you see the employment opportunities in other fields, in government, private, organised and unorganised sector -- there are a lot of opportunities between 25-30 years of age. The more we would have delayed, the longer the initial tenure would have been. Many of these avenues would not be available to the young people then."
"And this is a long enough period to give good training and experience, and for the individual to assess whether he likes the armed forces, whether he wants to make it his permanent career choice," he said.
Who gets retained after four years?
Air Marshal Jha also gave insights on how someone could make it through to the 25 per cent of Agniveers who would be retained in the armed forces.
He said, "The process is absolutely transparent. In the IAF, we are contemplating at least three common exams: one is the entry-level, one is at the end of first six months after his initial training and one is around 3 to quarter to four years."
"These three exams will form one part. Then we will also be giving him training after every year or maybe even earlier if he is quick on the uptake. He will also be undergoing certain courses that will grant him credits for enhancing his educational qualification. He will be involved in marksmanship, soldierly activities, health and physical fitness, his discipline record and his assessment by the people who are seeing him work day in and day out. All this would be on a common networked platform. Our assurance is that each Agniveer Vayu will get a level-playing field to prove himself. And based on this, we will keep the best 25 per cent," he added.
Training module for Agniveer Vayu
As for the training that will be provided in these four years, Air Marshal Jha said, "Some part of the training is building his personality, his language, his communication, his interests, the way he walks and talks, the way he conducts himself and discipline. Then there are certain there are basic soldierly traits, survival skills, firefighting skills, marksmanship, handling of weapons, parade marching, physical fitness, punctuality and all that. And then there will be skill training that will depend upon his aptitude and his qualification. And it will be in many fields. The spectrum of IAF is extremely wide. So depending upon his skills, he will be given training in that area."
Entry of women as Agniveers in IAF
When questioned about the chances for young girls in the IAF, Air Marshal Jha said that his force will also induct them like the Indian Navy is. "This time we are not inducting. We have a detailed study ongoing -- the study is almost complete -- that will be presented to the higher leadership. Once we are fully prepared to induct young girls, we have to be absolutely certain that we take care of them and enhance them in every way possible, and then we will induct them. We have a large number of women officers and they have been doing extremely well. They are now flying even fighter aircraft. So we will very soon be inducting women as Agniveers."