The opposition parties are sniffing at the government's reluctance to debate the Agnipath scheme of temporary recruitment into the armed forces in parliament as the Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Defence has convened a meeting to discuss the issue on Monday, which is a week before both the Houses reconvene for the monsoon session.

The Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Defence, chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, has sought the presence of the committee members from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on July 11 to discuss the four-year contractual recruitment of Agniveers into the Army, Air Force, and Navy, which has already been rolled by the tri-services despite protest by youth, military veterans, and political parties. The meeting was rescheduled from July 8 to July 11. Ajay Bhatt, Minister of State for Defence, also represents the government in the committee, which has 24 members.

Concerns about Agnipath

Congress member of the committee, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, questioned the government’s move to have discussion on the Agnipath scheme ahead of nearly a month-long parliament session which begins on July 18. Speaking to BusinessLine, Lok Sabha MP from West Bengal Chowdhury said, “Why resort to Consultative Committee when parliament is going to resume? We are not hell-bent on opposing the scheme but want to record our proposal to counter the government’s cavalier attitude towards forces. And the best forum is parliament for discussion. “

Not just the Congress, youth and veterans, the MP stated, have also raised scores of concerns which should be addressed before going ahead with this kind of reform in the recruitment process. Chowdhury also wondered why the issue has not been taken up by the standing committee on defence.

The Consultative Committee on Defence is different from the Standing Committee on Defence since the former is headed by the minister, while the latter is by an MP from the ruling party. The Standing Committee, however, is more empowered, independent and has a broader mandate than the consultative committee since the former can summon any person to give oral or written evidence before the panel, said parliamentary officials. The Consultative Committee, with the minister as its chairperson, can meander the course of discussion to ensure that it’s not to the dislike of the ruling dispensation, officials added.

TMC MP Saugata Roy said his party is opposed to the Agnipath scheme and that he will use the opportunity to question the government on various aspects of the recruitment process.

The opposition parties’ battle against the recruitment of constabulary was also echoed by RJD’s Rajya Sabha MP, Amarendra Dhari Singh. The parliamentarian from Bihar stressed that his party’s stand is not in line with the government. He, though, commented, “I will have to seek instructions from the party and go through documents before the committee meeting.

Since the launch of the scheme in early June, the services have started enrolment of candidates for Agniveers in the age group of 17.5 to 23 for physical and written tests. The scheme is open to women as well. Following violent protests by youths who set fire to trains, railway platforms, and other public transport in demand of the social and financial security that regular recruits in the armed forces enjoy, various ministries have come up with respective schemes to absorb out-of-service Agniveers. The Ministry of defence and home have reserved ten per cent of jobs for post-service Agniveers, including in Coast Guards and central armed police forces like CRPF, BSF, ITBP, CISF, and SSB.