It will be disruptive. It will destroy the espirt de corps of India’s men in uniform. It will be the death knell for our armed forces.

Those were some reactions expressed on Twitter by retired defence officers to the Agnipath scheme for short-term recruitment into the armed forces announced on Tuesday.

By Thursday, violent protests against the plan had spread to several North Indian states, with train coaches being burnt and a Bharatiya Janata Party office being attacked. The protestors want the previous longer-term system of recruitment to continue.

Under the Agnipath scheme, citizens aged between 17-and-a-half to 21 years will be eligible to apply for a four-year “Tour of Duty” in the armed forces. Twenty-five per cent of those who complete the Tour of Duty will be eligible to apply as regular personnel.

The short-term recruits, or Agniveers, will not be eligible for pension or gratuity benefits and will be given a sum of Rs 11.71 lakh at the end of their service.

Among those who aired his disappointment with the scheme was retired Major General GD Bakshi, a frequent guest on television chat shows as a die-hard supporter of the ruling BJP.

Sushant Singh, a retired army officer and frequent commentator on security and defence matters, said the move would be disruptive and cautioned against carrying out experiments on the armed forces.

Some former officers warned that the short tenure would lead to disgruntled youngsters.

Reducing the pension burden of the defence ministry has been cited as one of the key reasons for introducing the short-term recruitment scheme. According to The Indian Express, the defence ministry has set aside or paid over Rs 3.3 lakh crore in pension since 2020.

However, one retired officer said that paying pensions was cheaper than the cost of defeat on the battlefield. Another pointed out that Agnipath recruits too would not be committed to the armed forces given the absence of financial support after their short stints.

By Thursday afternoon, the Centre issued a clarification seeking to assuage the concerns of protesters about the limited tenure of service as well as their employment prospects after their tours ended. But some pointed out that even retired personnel who have served full terms in the armed forces struggle to find employment and support.

But the scheme also has its supporters. One retired officer agreed that younger recruits were needed and suggested that the government and defence ministry take a balanced approach to bringing in reforms while factoring in economic concerns.