Agnipath scheme: Trains torched, highways turn into battleground amid protests
Violent protests were witnessed across the country against the defense recruitment scheme, Agnipath, with a youth being shot and trains and vehicles torched even as assurances by the defence minister, home minister, and the Army chief failed to pacify protesters. Intense protests were held from Uttar Pradesh to Telangana and Bihar to Madhya Pradesh. Low-intensity protests were held in Jharkhand, Punjab, and Rajasthan, too.
Why does this story matter?
- Although the Agnipath scheme has not entered the implementation phase, officials claimed it will pave the way for massive recruitment in the defense forces.
- Recruitment in the Indian Army and other defense forces has been blocked for nearly two years, putting aspirants into a distressing situation.
- However, the new scheme is facing sharp criticism from certain quarters following apprehensions over job security.
Youth killed, trains torched
A 24-year-old Army aspirant was shot dead, while several others were injured in police firing in Telangana's Secunderabad railway station. Public and private vehicles were also set ablaze. Angry youth stormed into railway premises and torched trains in Bihar's Hajipur and Uttar Pradesh's Ballia. Indian Railways canceled 234 trains while 340 trains were affected due to the ongoing protests since Wednesday.
Angry crowds block highways in Bihar, UP
As the protests spread uncontrollably, angry crowds squatted on tracks and highways, pelted stones at buses and trains, burned tires on tracks, and toppled vending kiosks at stations. Demonstrators blocked highways in Bihar's Buxar, Bhagalpur, and Samastipur. The Yamuna Expressway in Uttar Pradesh's Noida was also blocked before the Gautam Budh Nagar authorities rounded the demonstrators. West Bengal and Haryana also witnessed protests.
Bihar deputy CM's house vandalized, state-wide bandh today
Protesters also vandalized Bihar's Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi's house and state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal's residence at Bettiah in the West Champaran district. They also attacked a Bihar BJP MLA's car. Internet services have been suspended in 12 districts even as several students' organizations, including CPI-ML (Liberation)-linked AISA, have called a state-wide bandh on Saturday. The Rashtriya Janata Dal has supported the bandh.
Protests in Haryana, West Bengal
As a precautionary measure, mobile internet and SMS services were suspended for 24 hours in Haryana's Ballabhgarh of Faridabad district as protests also erupted in Palwal, Hisar, Fatehabad, and Jhajjar. Madhya Pradesh's Indore and Uttar Pradesh's Varanasi, Firozabad, and Amethi also witnessed violent protests causing damage to public property. Train services were disrupted on the Sealdah-Bangaon route in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district.
What is Agnipath scheme?
Officials said the Agnipath military recruitment scheme for armed services is aimed at reducing the wage and pension costs. Under this proposal, defense troops will be freed after four years. Only 25% of them may be recalled for a complete term. There will be no pension and gratuity benefits. However, a lump sum amount will be given to them upon completion of the service.
Armed forces to start enrollment process soon
Meanwhile, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force on Friday announced they would start the enrolment process under the new model by next week. The Air Force was scheduled to start the selection process for recruitment under the new scheme on Friday, while the Army would begin the initial exercise within two days. The Navy said it would start the process "very soon."
BJP leaders laud scheme, speak in its defense
Amid the violent protests, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders put up a stout face with its top brass lauding the government's decision to raise the upper age limit for recruitment under the Agnipath scheme to 23 years from 21 for this year. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh described it as a "golden opportunity" for youngsters to serve the country.
PM Modi can't grasp what public wants: Rahul Gandhi
Earlier, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi slammed the Centre over the scheme. Rahul had stated PM Narendra Modi does not grasp what the public wants. He added the central government launched programs that have been "rejected" by the people. "He can't hear anything except the voice of his 'friends,'" Rahul said. Meanwhile, Priyanka requested the prime minister to rescind the policy immediately.