Policy

Government presses on with ‘Agnipath’ as violence spreads in 7 States

Dalip Singh | Updated on: Jun 17, 2022
Protestors pelting stones at a train while agitating against ‘Agnipath’ scheme in Secunderabad railway station on Friday

Protestors pelting stones at a train while agitating against ‘Agnipath’ scheme in Secunderabad railway station on Friday | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

All three service chiefs speak out to bolster confidence, recruitment schedule to be rolled out next week

The government seemed determined to push the Agnipath scheme with the three defence services finalising the recruitment schedule even as violent protests raged across seven States with a person getting killed allegedly in police firing in Secunderabad, public property vandalised and thousands of protestors blocking trains and highways on Friday.

Arson

Protestors demanding rollback of the recruitment scheme fanned out on the railway tracks and highways with brickbats and stones, shouting slogans against the short service tenure and denial of pension benefits under the new scheme. Haryana and Bihar governments ordered suspension of mobile internet services, all SMS services for 24 hours. Coaches of seven trains were set on fire by protesters while coaches of three running trains and one empty rake in Kulharia of the ECR zone were damaged. As many as 200 trains – 164 in the East Central Railways (ECR), 34 in North Eastern Railways (NER), 13 in Northern Railways (NR) and about 3 in Northeast Frontier Railways – were cancelled. Buses were targetted in some areas.

In Secunderabad, the sudden swelling of angry protestors in the railway station caught the police unawares. The protestors attacked the East Coast Express and set the engine and few compartments, including the luggage wagon, on the fire. The parcels which were to be loaded onto different trains were thrown on the tracks and burnt. The police initially caned and fired teargas shells to disperse the protestors but finally resorted to opening fire. Three protestors suffered bullet injuries and one of them, Domodhar Rakesh, succumbed to the injuries. Remaining 14 were being treated at the Gandhi Hospital here.

The Opposition joined the chorus with former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Bhagel demanding the withdrawal of the scheme. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) took to circulating visuals of the protestors being attacked by the police at various places. “These are young people who elected you to power,” said a message by AAP accompanying a video of the injured protestors in UP.

Centre pushes through

But the government seemed undeterred with all the three service chiefs forcefully speaking out in favour of the recruitment scheme. Army Chief General Manoj Pande said the notification for the scheme will be out over the next two days. “Once they (the agitators) get to know about the scheme, they will have faith that this is not only for the youth, but also beneficial to all,” he asserted.

About 45,000 Agniveers have to be recruited in the first year. While 40,000 will be inducted into the Army, 3,000 each will be inducted into the Air Force and the Navy. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, who too spoke to media, will be visiting six forward bases from Friday to explain details of the scheme to troops. Similarly, Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said the scheme was in the “best interest of the armed forces” and it was “long overdue” and that “money is not an issue”.

Home Minister Amit Shah joined Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in promoting the scheme. Singh, who is on a two-day visit to Jammu & Kashmir, said the government has relaxed the upper age limit from 21 to 23 for recruitment of Agniveers this year indicating that “the government cares for the youth”.

Smoke billows from buses after they were set on fire by people protesting against Centre’s ‘Agnipath’ scheme, in Aurangabad, on Friday

Smoke billows from buses after they were set on fire by people protesting against Centre’s ‘Agnipath’ scheme, in Aurangabad, on Friday | Photo Credit: -

Amit Shah hailed the scheme by underlining that “a large number of youth will be benefited by this decision”. Shah has already given out assurances that Agniveers would be given preference in recruitment to Central armed police forces like CRPF, BSF, ITBP, CISF and NSG, and Assam Rifles.

‘Lack of awareness’

Military sources said the general belief is that the initial resistance and protests are due to lack of awareness especially about the post-service advantages and it would eventually subside. While the protests were still swelling on Friday, all the three services were busy charting out their recruitment schedule to hire youth in the age group of 17.5 to 23.

The Air Force said recruitment process will begin from June 24, while the Army will issue notification by Monday. The Navy, too, is expected to follow suit.

To press ahead with the communication strategy to spread awareness about the all-class and all-India recruitment scheme, the defence ministry is now specifically engaging the vernacular media realising they needed to reach out to prospective applications in Hindi and other regional languages in which they are comfortable.

Published on June 17, 2022
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