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Youth Protests Across Country Against Centre’s ‘Agnipath’ Recruitment Scheme

Violent protests against the new ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme for the armed forces spread from Bihar to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, as well as parts of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and even the national capital Delhi on Thursday. The ‘Agnipath’ scheme was announced on Tuesday by defence minister Rajnath Singh and the three service chiefs. Under this scheme, armed forces recruits can serve for a four-year period followed by compulsory retirement for 75 per cent – in most cases without gratuity and pension benefits.

The latest protests have been reported from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, with visuals showing the Birlanagar railway station ransacked. Trash cans were set on fire and left on the railway tracks and the windows of some trains were broken. One video showed the station master’s room ransacked as well, with people in the video claiming that protesters had broken the control system and attempts were being taken to fix it.
Nearly 1,000 to 1,200 youth were part of the stir at Gwalior and Birlanagar railway stations. They threw stones at trains, and railway employees present at the spot said they somehow escaped to prevent themselves from getting hurt.

Delhi-Mumbai track was completely affected owing to the ransacking of the railway stations, with North Central Railways informing that as many as seven trains have been impacted so far.

Earlier today, an angry crowd set a train ablaze at Chhapra in Bihar’s Saran district. Protestors in the eastern state’s Bhabhua set a coach of an intercity express on fire and smashed the windows of the carriage.

Violence was reported in other regions of Bihar as well, including Gaya, Munger, Siwan, Buxar and Bhagalpur. Stone-pelting was reported from Ara railway station as protestors resorted to picketing and blocking roads across Bihar. In Jehanabad, protestors pelted stones and injured several people, including police forces who chased them away to clear the railway tracks.

Bihar BJP MLA (Warsaliganj) Aruna Devi’s vehicle was attacked by army aspirants protesting the new recruitment scheme in Nawada, and they also torched the party’s office in the city. The party’s Chhapra town protestors also attacked MLC CM Gupta’s house.

Protests also erupted in Haryana’s Rewari where police resorted to baton-charge after angry armed forces aspirants gathered outside the bus stand in the district, disrupting transport services for an hour. Traffic on the Gurugram-Jaipur highway was disturbed as a result of the agitation. The agitation was also reported in many areas of Rajasthan on Thursday after scores of defence job aspirants led by by the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) staged agitation in the state against the scheme.

However, ADGP (Law and Order), Hawa Singh Ghumaria said that no “untoward incident” has so far been reported from anywhere where the stir is being held.

Protests happened in Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia and Buldanshahr districts too. However, the protesters dispersed after officials assured them that their demands will be conveyed to the authorities concerned.

The Centre has defended the ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme, saying that contrary to what the protestors are thinking, the future of the policy is not insecure. South block officials said on Thursday that many avenues will open up for the ‘Agniveers’ (those inducted into the recruitment model) and they can choose to be anyone from entrepreneurs to job seekers.

A defence ministry official said that such a short-term recruitment system exists in many countries and is a tried-and-tested practice for a youthful and agile army, adding that it is wrong to think 21-year-olds are immature.

Opposition leaders have urged the Centre to listen to the demands of the armed forces aspirants. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday launched a fresh attack on the BJP-led central government over the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, saying “no respect for the army” has been shown.

Samajwadi Party (SP) national president Akhilesh Yadav called the move a “careless attitude” while Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed to the Centre to give young men and women a chance to serve the country throughout their life and not just for four years.

Meanwhile, left parties have called for the scrapping of the ‘Agnipath’ scheme and be taken up in Parliament for discussion, claiming it does a “disservice” to India’s national interest.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday (June 14) announced the ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme after the Union cabinet committee on security gave a green signal to it. Under the policy, Indians, including women, aged 17-and-a-half and 21, will be recruited in the armed forces for only four years with a provision to retain 25 per cent of them after the completion of the stipulated time period. After another round of screening, those retained will be inducted into the regular cadre for 15 more years. Some veterans have criticised the scheme saying that the disadvantages will outweigh the advantages.


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