New Delhi: Lambasting the defence aspirants protesting against the Central government’s Agnipath recruitment scheme, Union Minister and former army chief General (Retd.) V.K. Singh has said the military recruitment drive is a voluntary one and burning trains and buses would not help anybody’s cause. “Joining the Army is voluntary and not a compulsion. If any aspirant wants to join, he can join as per his will, we don’t conscript soldiers. But if you don’t like this recruitment scheme then don’t come to (join),” news agency Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted General (Retd.) Singh as saying.
“Who is asking you to come? You are burning buses and trains. Who told you that you will be recruited into the armed forces? You will be selected only if you fulfil the eligibility criteria,” he added speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an event in Maharashtra’s Nagpur city earlier on Sunday.
Underlining the Army is neither an employment agency nor a company or a shop, General (Retd.) Singh said the people join out of their interest to serve the nation.
He said the ruling dispensation relaxed the entry age limit to 23 years because the recruitment to the armed forces remained stalled due to the Covid-19 pandemic for two years.
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“If a person had missed out on earlier recruitment opportunities he is still eligible to apply. This is a voluntary scheme and anyone who fits the criteria can apply,” he added responding to a poser if the discontent over the Agnipath scheme will discourage the aspirants from turning up at recruitment rallies to join the armed forces.
General (Retd.) Singh also took potshots at Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra over her remarks that the Agnipath scheme will destroy the youth as well as the Army.
The former army chief Singh alleged the Congress is finding fault with even the best work of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government as it is upset with party leader Rahul Gandhi’s questioning by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
Asserting the Opposition, particularly the Congress, is trying to “mislead the youngsters”, he said: “The only work that the Opposition is left with is to criticize and stop any government scheme. They want to create unrest in the country to defame the government.”
The Union Minister said the concept of the Agnipath scheme was conceived when the Kargil Committee was formed after the 1999 war.
General (Retd.) Singh said the demand for compulsory military training for the youth and other citizens of the country had been made for the last 30 to 40 years.
“In the past, it was said that the training can be imparted through the NCC but the demand for military training was always there,” he added.
The Agnipath scheme, announced earlier on June 14, provides for the recruitment of youth in the age bracket of 17-and-half to 21 years for only four years with a provision to retain 25 percent of them for 15 more years.
The Centre later extended the upper age limit to 23 years for recruitment in 2022.
The youth joining the armed forces under Agnipath scheme will be known as Agniveers.
This scheme has, however, sparked protests in many parts of the country.
As protests continue unabated, various Union Ministries have announced job opportunities for the Agniveers after their four-year term ends.