Express News Service
PUNJAB: The lure for the olive uniform among the Punjab youth has faded over the years as the number of youngsters joining as commissioned officers has declined. The Maharaja Ranjit Singh Armed Forces Preparatory Institute (AFPI), set up by the Punjab government in 2011, is determined to reverse the trend.
The institute has sent 162 cadets to the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA), Indian Military Academy (IMA) and other service academies since 2013. It has been credited with securing all- India rank 1 in the NDA merit list on two occasions, besides once holding rank 1 in the merit list of Officers Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai.
Out of the 162 cadets, 85 have earned their commission in the armed forces. As many as 68 have joined the Army, eight have gone to the Navy, and nine to the Air Force. This year, two AFPI alumni became commissioned officers in the armed forces and another sixteen cadets passed out of the NDA at Khadakwasla, Pune.
The institute has started a new programme, the Cadet Training Wings, to reach out to seven schools in Punjab. Currently, there are three batches of cadets at AFPI. The cadets of the ninth batch were to appear for their Class XII final board exams. As the exams have been cancelled, they are now awaiting their grades as per the assessment and are also preparing for the NDA entrance exam due in November. Another batch of 42 boys has been selected as part of the 11th batch that commenced training on May 24.
AFPI Director General Maj Gen BS Grewal (Retd) says: “During my last posting at NDA at Khadakwasla as Deputy Commandant, I asked a junior whether a special train to and from Jalandhar carrying cadets still ran because when I joined the NDA in 1968, I came by that train. I was shocked when I was told that no such service now as there only a handful of cadets from the state.” That’s when he contacted the Punjab government and the discussion began to set up a training institute.
“When I retired, I was requested by the state government to set up the institute. In 2010, the construction began across ten acres in Mohali (SAS Nagar). The next year we selected our first batch which passed out in 2013,” says Maj Gen Grewal. One of the boys from the first batch, Capt Vishavdeep Singh, is in the elite 9 Para and was awarded Sena Medal for gallantry in January. Lt Jasmeet Singh Bamrah of J&K Rifles was awarded the Chief of Defence Staff Commendation for gallantry in Galwan valley in 2021, he said. This year’s NDA exam was held in April and results came 37 boys have cleared the exam. They will be going for their SSB interviews shortly,” he said.
He says the success story of the institute has led to Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana governments sending their delegations to study and replicate our model. The institute is designed to train 96 boys in one session and aims to train selected young men from Punjab training to selected boys as it spends around Rs 1.25 lakh per boy on training per year. “In November every year, we publish an advertisement for recruitment in the institute and in January, an entrance test is held in which around 2,000-3,000 students appear,” said Gen Grewal. Interviews then follow in which around 400 students are shortlisted and finally around 45 students are selected. The process is over by April.
“Their training here is free as they have to only pay for their school fees. We have tied up with a private school for studies in Class XI and XII as students can take only non-medical subjects.” For cadets whose parents have served in the Army or are serving, the school fee is paid by Punjab Ex-Servicemen Corporation,” he said. There are around 95 rooms and each student gets a single room with an attached bathroom. The training schedule is tough: at 5 am they get up and get ready in an hour.
They have to be at the grounds for PT and drill. At 7 am, breakfast is served and after 40 minutes, they leave for school on the bus and return at 1.30 pm. It’s lunchtime then, and from 3 to 4.30 pm is the study period for NDA training. This is followed by a one-hour games period. From 6.30 to 8.15 pm, it’s time to do school work, tuition classes and homework.
Dinner follows at 9.15 pm and 10 pm is the time to go to bed. The 10-acre campus also has a swimming pool, an indoor shooting range, an auditorium, a library-cum-cyber café, a conference room and classrooms. It also offers an obstacle course for SSB training, a gymnasium, jogging track, a squash court, beam and chinup bars, golf and grounds for hockey, football, basketball, volleyball and lawn tennis. “We are proud of the young men from the ‘land of five rivers’. Their courage and ‘josh’ sends a shiver down the enemy’s spine. We train hard, and we get going when the going gets tough,” reads the song of the institute.
Free training for service academies
The advertisement for admissions in the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Armed Forces Preparatory Institute (AFPI) is published In November every year. In January, an entrance test is held in which around 2,000-3,000 students appear. Around 400 are shortlisted for the interviews and about 45 students are selected for admissions finally. The whole process is usually over by April. The institute provides free training to selected boys for NDA, IMA and other service academies as it spends around Rs 1.25 lakh per boy on training per year.