Aspirants for jobs in the armed forces on Thursday blocked road and rail traffic in several states for the second consecutive day to protest against Agnipath, the Centre’s short-term recruitment scheme, The Indian Express reported.
The Agnipath scheme, which provides for recruitment in the armed forces for four years, was approved by the Union Cabinet Committee on Security on Tuesday morning. Through the scheme, the government is seeking to reduce the average age of defence personnel and cut down the salary and pension bills of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
The protests took place in several parts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan on Thursday. In Delhi and Jammu too, protestors took to streets.
In Bihar, the demonstrations turned violent in several places, as some of the protestors broke window panes of trains and buses. Protesters in Bihar’s Bhabua and Chhapra cities set train coaches on fire, PTI reported.
In Nawada district, a Bharatiya Janata Party office was set on fire. In a separate incident, agitators threw stones at Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Aruna Devi’s car. Five persons, including the legislator, were injured in the attack. “The protestors seemed to have been provoked by the sight of the party flag, fitted on my car, which they tore,” Devi said.
The MLA told reporters that she was “too shaken” to file a police complaint.
At some places in the state, the police fired tear gas shells and baton-charged the protestors in an attempt to disperse them.
Some protestors sought the reinstatement of the old method of recruitment, while some sought reservation in other jobs after the end of the four-year stint in the armed forces.
“What is this four-year service?” Manoj Kumar, a protestor in Bhagalpur said, according to The Indian Express. “People talk of catching us young, they are planning to retire us young.”
Previously, soldiers have been recruited by the three armed forces for a 17-year period, which could be extended later for some personnel.
Protests against the Agnipath scheme were also held in Haryana’s Gurugram, Rewari and Palwal. Some protestors threw stones in outside the district commissioner’s office in Palwal, and torched police vehicles. The police fired shots to bring the protests under control.
Internet services have been suspended in Palwal, while prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code has been imposed in Faridabad.
In the Bilaspur and Sidhrawali areas of Gurugram, protestors surrounded bus stands and blocked roads, stalling traffic on the Gurugram-Jaipur highway.
A video shared on Twitter showed large-scale damage at the Birlanagar railway junction in Gwalior after protestors allegedly vandalised the station.
In Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district, a group of students blocked the GT Road and shouted slogans seeking the withdrawal of the scheme, IANS reported. Some demonstrators also gathered in the city’s Khurja area.
“Some youngsters gathered to stage protest in the morning,” Superintendent of Police Shlok Kumar said, according to PTI. “They called off the protest on the assurance of officials.”
Protests were also held in the districts of Gonda, Unnao and Ballia.
The protestors demanded that recruitment to the armed forces be carried out in the traditional manner instead of the new programme.
In Rajasthan, aspirants for posts in the armed forces held protests in Jodhpur, Sikar, Jaipur, Nagaur, Ajmer and Jhunjhunu districts, PTI reported. Members of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party led by Hanuman Beniwal also joined the protests.
The police deployed additional forces at places where protests took place.
“No untoward incident has been reported from anywhere where protest is being held,” Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Hawa Singh Ghumaria said. “The situation is peaceful.”
In Jammu, protestors shouted slogans and held a rally between the Jival Chowk and Dogra Chowk areas of the city.
Road and rail transport affected
Several busy train routes, including Patna-Gaya, Barauni-Katihar and Danapur-DDU (Deen Dayal Upadhyay junction), were badly hit by the protests.
At Buxar in Bihar, several trains were stuck at the outer signal of the station as protestors blocked the tracks, station manager Rajan Kumar said.
The protests also disrupted road traffic in the districts of Jehanabad, Buxar, Katihar, Saran, Bhojpur and Kaimur. In some places, several persons were injured in stone-throwing.
More than a dozen protestors stopped a train at Nangloi railway station in Delhi by lying down on the tracks, PTI reported.
‘Agniveers’ will get better job prospects, says government
As the tension escalated, the Centre on Thursday sought to address concerns about options for young persons once their four-year stint in the armed forces is over.
“The Union home ministry has spoken about giving priority to Agniveers after four years for recruitment in CAPFs [Central Armed Police Forces] and Assam Rifles,” the government said.
The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting also said that one out of four of such recruits will get a permanent job, in an apparent reference to the possibility of them being drafted for regular postings in the armed forces.
“How many people have a corpus of Rs 12 lakh between the ages of 21 to 24 years?” the ministry asked. “How many of you manage to settle in life at the age of 24 years?”
However, veterans of the armed forces have also expressed concern about the shorter tenure, saying it could have serious ramifications for national security. Lieutenant General (retired) Vinod Bhatia said the new recruitment plan was announced without testing it or doing a pilot project.