The Centre’s Agnipath recruitment scheme for Indian youth in the armed forces, termed a historic and transformative measure, has met unprecedented level of agitations and protests in several states across India.
Massive protests erupted in Bihar, Rajasthan and some other states against the recruitment scheme, over concerns of job security and other issues. However, many states have also announced schemes where such ‘Agniveers’, as the beneficiaries of this move are dubbed, can get advantage.
The Agnipath recruitment scheme was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security on Tuesday. Under the scheme, around 46,000 youths, aged between 17 and a half and 21, will be recruited into the three services in a contract for four years. However, after the protests, the Centre on Thursday raised the upper entry age limit for recruitment under the new Agnipath military scheme to 23 years from 21.
Defence service aspirants disrupted rail and road traffic in several parts of Bihar in protest against the recruitment scheme for its limited term of employment followed by compulsory retirement for most without gratuity and pension benefits. The agitation turned violent in the state’s Munger and Jehanabad as agitators burned tyres, vandalised buses and set trains on fire while raising slogans against the scheme.
‘Sense of Unemployment’
Talking to IANS, Jehanabad MLA Kumar Krishnamohan aka Suday Yadav termed the scheme ‘suicidal’ for students who are preparing to join the defence services and said that the government has ‘deceived the students’ by changing the norms.
“Bihar is a state of youths and all are facing sense of unemployment after this decision,” he said, adding that Bihar has always shown the path to the nation through several movements and this protest will also show the path ahead. On the agitation turning violent, he said that in any protest, partial damage occurs in any form.
The protests, which started in Bihar, have now spread to Uttar Pradesh and Haryana and other states. Aspirants said they are unhappy with the changes introduced under the new recruitment scheme. Among many other demands, the students are raising their concerns for over the term, no pension provisions for those released early, and the age restriction that now makes many of them ineligible.
“We demand that exam should be held as it was done earlier. No one would like to join the armed forces only for just four years,” a agitating student told IANS.
“We are practicing from years to get selected into the Army. Now we have come to know that it will be on contractual term only for four years which is not fair for students like us,” another aspirant said.
What the Govt Has Said
As violent protests raged in multiple states, the government issued a clarification, asserting that the new model will not only bring in fresh capabilities to the armed forces but also open up avenues for youth in the private sector and help them become entrepreneurs with the aid of the severence package they will be entitled to on retirement.
Apart from issuing a ‘Myth vs Facts’ document to address the concerns raised about the scheme, the government’s information dissemination arm issued a series of social media posts in its support.
“The scheme will bring in new dynamism to the armed forces. It will help the forces bring in new capabilities and take advantage of the technical skills and fresh thinking of the youths… It will allow the youths to serve the nation,” the Press Information Bureau said in a Facebook post.
Referring to the financial package of around Rs 11.71 lakh to be given to each of the recruits at the end of the four-year tenure from the ‘Seva Nidhi Package’, it said it will provide financial independence to the youth and even help them venture into entrepreneurship.
On the criticism that the short tenure of ‘Agniveers’, the defence personnel recruited under the new system, will harm the effectiveness of the armed forces, government sources said such systems exist in several countries, and the one introduced in India is already “tested out and considered best practice for an agile army”.
The numbers of ‘Agniveers’ to be recruited in the first year would only make up three per cent of the armed forces, they said, adding their performance will be tested before re-induction into the army after four years. “Hence Army will get the tested and tried personnel for supervisory ranks,” they said.
The sources said the new scheme will bring about a right mix of “50 per cent-50 per cent” youth and experience in the supervisory ranks in the long run.
But Oppn Not Convinced
Political parties, predictably, reacted along partisan lines with the Opposition stepping up its attack on the government and demanding that the scheme be scrapped.
“No rank, no pension, no direct recruitment for 2 years, no stable future after four years, no respect shown by the government for the army,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.
“Listen to the voice of unemployed youths of the country, don’t take ‘agnipareeksha’ of their patience by making them walk on ‘Agnipath’, Mr. prime minister,” the former Congress chief said.
The Left parties, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, BSP leader Mayawati and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also voiced displeasure over the scheme which the government insists is “transformative”.
There was the lone voice of disapproval from the BJP–MP Varun Gandhi– who said the new reform will give rise to more disaffection among the youth.
With inputs from IANS, PTI