One person was killed in police firing in Secunderabad in Telangana on Friday even as ongoing violent protests against Agnipath, the centre’s new recruitment policy for Indian armed forces, spread to several states and districts. Protesters have set about 12 trains on fire at various places, leading to Indian Railways cancelling more than 200 trains.
Though alarmed at the massive protests, the government made it clear its intent to go ahead with the Agnipath scheme amid a call for a roll back by various organizations and political parties. According to Indian Army chief General Manoj Pande, the training of first batch of Agniveers would commence in December 2022 and the active service mid 2023. ANI quoted the Army chief as saying, “The recruitment process is going to begin soon. Within the next two days, a notification will be issued on the official website. After that our Army recruitment organisations will declare a detailed schedule of registration and rally.”
His Indian Air Force (AIF) counterpart, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, said in a statement that he would visit six forward bases to educate the troops on the ‘Agnipath’ scheme. The IAF is going to begin recruitment from June 24 under the newly unveiled recruitment policy.
In the meanwhile, the Central government called high-level meeting after which securities agencies have been put on high alert for Jun 18 and 20. According to intelligence agencies, these days may also witness violent protests. The meeting decided to take appropriate measures to restore train services and protect railway property. A team of officials drawn from security agencies, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Rail
ways is monitoring the situation every 4 hours.
Protests against ‘Agnipath’ continued on Friday and spread to other parts of the country including Jammu and Telangana, affecting several districts. Police in Secunderabad opened fire when an irate mob of protestors turned violent, vandalizing railway property and setting train coaches on fire with passengers on board. The firing killed one person and seriously injured 15 persons. The person who died in police firing has been identified as Damodara Rakesh, He was studying engineering and taking army coaching. All MMTS trains were cancelled till further notice.
Among the worst affected states is Bihar, where five districts have seen violence leading to torching of trains and vandalizing of state and private property. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are other states affected by protests.
Elsewhere in Jammu, hundreds of youths blocked the national highway at Kathua Kali Badi on Friday. Demanding an immediate roll back of the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, they threatened the government with dire consequences. Similarly, hundreds of youths in Indore protested against the new military recruitment policy the Centre unveiled on Tuesday June 14. They gathered on tracks at the Laxmibai Railway Station and hurled stones on trains, causing disruption of train services. A day before Gwalior had seen huge protests by youths leading to detention and arrests of over 50 protestors by the police.
In Ballia, Uttar Pradesh, protestors turned violent and set a train on fire. Similar protests were reported from Jaipur, Bharatpur, Sikar, Kota, Chittorgarh and Alwar districts in Rajasthan on Friday.
Haryana government suspended Internet and SMS services in view of protests turning violent in Palwal, Rewari and Mahendragarh.
A massive protest was held at ITO in Delhi by Desh Ki Baat Foundation, CYSS, AISA, RYA, SFI, SVS and Aam Aadmi Party Youth Wing, even as Delhi Metro decided to shut stations at Delhi Gate and Jama Masjid as a precautionary measure. Delhi Police is learned to have arrested over 150 protesters.
Finding itself in a tight spot over its new recruitment policy for the armed forces, the Centre on Thursday extended the age limit of prospective recruits from 21 years to 23. Appreciating the government move, Home Minister Amit Shah said, “A large number of youth will be benefited by this decision and through ‘Agnipath Yojana’, they will move towards giving service to the nation and a bright future.” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, “The relaxation of age indicates that the Government cares for our youth. Department of Military Affairs, MoD and Services are committed to commence the recruitment process at the earliest. We invite youth of our country to join Indian Armed Forces and serve the nation through Agnipath.”
Amid the widespread protests against Agnipath, the opposition parties, cutting across party lines, have stepped up pressure asking the Centre to scrap the scheme. Launching a scathing attack on the government, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Friday, “No rank, no pension either, no direct recruitment in the past 2 years, no stable future after 4 years, no respect to the Army by the government, listen to the voice of the unemployed youth of the country, don’t force them to walk on the path of Agnipath and try their patience Mr. Prime Minister.”