Prime Minister Narendra Modi amid countrywide protests and severe opposition criticism over the Agnipath defence recruitment scheme today said some decisions “may look unfair” at first, but will help in nation-building later. “Several decisions look unfair at present. In time, those decisions will help in building the nation,” PM Modi said at a public address in Bengaluru, but without making any mention of the scheme.
Several opposition parties, including the Congress, have dubbed “Agnipath” the latest blunder of the government, part of a series that includes demonetisation and the farm laws. Many critics have predicted a rollback.
The government, however, is standing firm. The military has declared that this was a long-awaited change in tune with the global trend that is increasingly focussed on the use of cutting-edge technology in warfare and a younger age profile for soldiers that’s more in tune with it.
The terms of the Agnipath scheme recruitment between the ages of 17.5 and 21 years and mandatory retirement for most after four years without any gratuity or pension, however, has generated fury in the backdrop of largescale unemployment and economic depression.
The government’s offer of several avenues of employment for “Agniveers” — including in police, paramilitary forces, home and defence ministries — has failed to mollify protesters who have been on the warpath since the June 14 announcement.
Today, several organisations called for an all-India strike during which more than 500 trains were cancelled by the railways, which has suffered major loss of property due to arson and vandalism by the protesters.
The plan under Agnipath scheme is to hire around 45,000 recruits in the first year across the Army, Navy and Air Force. The three services of the military had on Sunday come out with a broad schedule of enrolment under the scheme and said that those who indulged in violence will not be inducted.
The Indian Army is the first of the three services to issue a notification. The document shows that Agnipath remains the only entry point for soldiers into the Indian Army, except technical cadres of the medical branch.
Online registration is mandatory on www.joinindianarmy.nic.in once it is opened from July. ‘Agniveer’ will be a distinct rank, says the notification.
For General Duty, Class 10 with 45 per cent marks in aggregate and 33 per cent in each subject are mandatory.
For Technical cadre, including Aviation and Ammunition Examiner, aspirants will need Class 12 with Physics, Chemistry, Maths and English with 50 per cent marks in aggregate and at least 40 per cent in each subject.
For Clerk or Storekeeper (Technical), Class 12 in any stream is fine as long as one has 60 per cent marks in aggregate and minimum 50 per cent in each subject. For this cadre, 50 per cent marks in English and Maths/Accounts or Book-Keeping are mandatory.
For Tradesmen, there are two categories – 10th pass and 8th pass. For these posts, the minimum criterion is having passed Class 8 or 10 with at least 33 per cent in each subject, according to the notification.
It says the Agniveer’s pay is “a composite package” and “he will not be eligible for any Dearness Allowance and Military Service Pay”. The Agniveer soldier “will get applicable Risk & Hardship, Ration, Dress and Travel allowances”. The recruits will get life insurance cover of ₹ 48 lakh for the duration of their engagement period, it adds.
Meanwhile, more than 500 trains were cancelled on Monday in view of the Bharat Bandh call in parts of the country. The railways has suffered a major loss of property due to arson and rioting by the protesters over the last week.
In Haryana, a group of armed forces aspirants blocked roads in Fatehabad and Rohtak. Security was stepped up at several locations in Kerala, Telangana, West Bengal and Rajasthan, too.
Uttar Pradesh Police said strict action will be taken against those found involved in jeopardising peace. In Punjab, police were asked to monitor the activities of social media groups which are allegedly spreading misinformation.
Congress leaders sat on a ‘Satyagraha’ at Jantar Mantar in Delhi to express solidarity with the aspirants.
The government has announced several measures to try and address the protesters’ anxieties. The Home Ministry has already decided to give three years of age relaxation and a 10 per cent reservation to Agniveers for recruitment in Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles.
While those who join after Class 10 will get a Class 12 certificate at the end of four years, an easier three-year bachelor’s degree after the four-year service has been announced for those who already have passed Class 12.
Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has also said that public sector units under his housing and petroleum ministries are also working on plans to induct Agniveers. Some business group owners also tweeted that they would give jobs to these recruits.