Chiefs of all three armed forces are set to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi today. Chiefs of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force would brief the Prime Minister on the Agnipath recruitment scheme. Meanwhile, taking a tough stance, army on Monday issued a notification for the induction of soldiers under the scheme.
The government’s farm stance became obvious in the backdrop of mild protests and ‘Bharat Bandh’ call in parts of the country which received a tepid response. Heavy deployment of police remained in place in many states, including Bihar. The nationwide protests affected around 597 train services, with the Railways cancelling 208 mail and express and 379 passenger trains.
Clamping down on protestors, the Bihar Police alone have arrested 877 people and registered 159 FIRs against them. There Uttar Pradesh counterpart have arrested 525 persons and registered 46 FIRs.
Even though there was relative calm across the country, Congress Party workers staged a protest against the Agnipath scheme in Jammu on Monday. Led by senior Congress leader Raman Bhalla, the party demanded a roll back of the recruitment policy.
The Centre had unveiled Agnipath, the new recruitment policy for all the three wings of the armed forces, last week on June 14. The policy seeks to recruit soldiers to Army, Navy and Air Force on a four-year contract and only 25 per cent of the recruits would be absorbed as regular servicemen after the contract is over.
Announcing the scheme in the presence of the three services chiefs, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had said that Agnipath was a transformative initiative that would provide a youthful profile to the armed forces. The Union Cabinet had also approved the scheme on June 14. The
youth selected under this scheme would be known as Agniveers. According to senior Ministry of Defence officials, initially 46,000 Army aspirants would be recruited in order to ‘analyse’ the scheme “and to build up infra capacity”. In the next 4–5 years, 50,000–60,000 Agniveers will be recruited. This number will increase to 90,000–1 lakh subsequently.
However, the scheme did not go down well with army aspirants and barely two days after the scheme was announced massive protests erupted in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the country including Assam. As protests continued and spread to other states, protesters turned violent at many places, vandalising both public and private property, specially targeting railway stations, torching trains and bogeys. On June 18 a protesting army aspirant was killed in Secunderabad, Telangana, when police opened fire. The police action also left 15 persons injured.
Stunned by the popular protests, the Central government announced some measures to mollify the protestors. The government extended a two-year relaxation in age limit for recruitment in the current year to 23 years. To pacify the protests, the government also announced 10 per cent reservation to Agniveers in all Central armed police forces and Assam Rifles after their contract with armed forces comes to an end.
However, the government on Sunday made it clear that there would be no roll back. Addressing a joint conference in Delhi, Lt Gen Anil Puri, Additional Secretary, Department of Military Affairs, Ministry of Defence, said, “Coming to the rollback of the scheme, no. Why should it be rolled back? It is the only progressive step to making the country young.”