The Central government on Sunday made it clear that Agnipath, the newly unveiled policy of recruitment to all three armed forces “will not be rolled back”. “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.” Lt Gen Anil Puri, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Defence announced here in a joint press conference. The announcement came after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had a meeting with all three services chiefs for the second consecutive day.
Explaining the rationale behind the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, Lt Gen Puri told the media persons that there were many casualties in high-altitude battle fields owing to health reasons. “Do you know how many casualties are reported just for health purposes from high-altitude areas? Do read about it, then you would come to know why young is important,” Puri said. Officers from Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy were also present in the joint briefing.
With the announcement made in the briefing it is clear that the contractual recruitment policy for armed forces is here to say notwithstanding the widespread protests against it. In view of the mounting protests, which have left Railways property worth Rs. 200 crore damaged and led to the cancellation of 300 trains, the government has, though, reached out the protesting youth to mollify them. In a slew of measures, the Centre first announced 2-year relaxation in age for 2022 and then extended 10 per cent reservation in Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles to Agniveers whose contract would come to an end after a 4-year stint. The government also extended age relaxation of 5 years to Agniveers in government jobs.
Lt Gen Puri further told
the media persons that initially 46,000 Army aspirants would be recruited in order to ‘analyse’ the scheme “and to build up infra capacity”. Unveiling the numbers the government intends to hire, Puri said, “In the next 4–5 years, our intake (of recruits) will be 50,000–60,000 and will increase to 90,000–1 lakh subsequently.” The number of ‘Agniveers’ would go up to 1.25 lakh eventually, he added.
However, the recruitment to armed forces comes with a caveat. Every Agniveer aspirant would have to furnish a certificate, duly verified by the police, declaring that they were not part of the protests or vandalism. Emphasizing that Indian Army’s foundation was discipline and there was no space for arson or vandalism, Lt Gen Puri said, “Every individual will give a certificate that they were not part of the protest or vandalism. Police verification is 100 per cent, no one can join without that.” Individuals against whom FIRs have been lodged would not be allowed to join the forces.
The Centre also banned 35 WhatsApp groups for spreading fake news on Agnipath scheme and Agniveers, the ministry of home affairs said. At least ten people have been arrested on charges of rumour-mongering and organising protests.
Around 17,600 people take premature retirement from the armed forces, he told the reporters. “No one ever tried to ask them what they will do after retirement?” said Lt Gen Puri. Agniveers would get the same allowance in areas like Siachen and other areas which are applicable to the regular soldiers serving at present, he informed the reporters. The Additional Secretary also said that an Agniveer would get a compensation of Rs 1 crore if he sacrifices his life in service of the nation.
The centre had on June 14 announced the new recruitment policy which seeks to casualise jobs in the armed forces causing huge resentment among army aspirants. Barely two days after the ‘Agnipath’ scheme was unveiled, youth hit the streets across several states leading to violence, arson and vandalism.
In the meanwhile, opposition parties continued slam the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, demanding its withdrawal. Giving a call to the youth of the country to topple the BJP-led government at the Centre, “through democratic, peaceful and non-violent means”, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi on Sunday said, “I urge you to protest peacefully, but don’t stop. These are your rights, this is your country and it is your duty to protect it. Every leader and worker of the Congress is with you.” Priyanka was addressing a ‘Satyagrah’ protest against the schemed held by the Congress Party at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi. Among the top leaders, who took part in the protest, were Jairam Ramesh, Rajiv Shukla, Sachin Pilot, Salman Khurshid and Alka Lamba.
Her brother Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, who turned 52 on Sunday, asked his party workers to refrain from organizing celebrations on his birthday. “We are concerned with the situation in the country. Crores of youths are anguished. We should share the pain of the youth and their families and stand with them,” Rahul said in a statement.
Slamming the Centre, BSP leader Mayawati on Sunday said that the scheme had left the country’s youth “disappointed and frustrated”.
In a related development, the Rajasthan Cabinet passed a resolution on Sunday demanding the Centre to withdraw the scheme keeping in mind the “larger public interest and the sentiments of the youths”.