The protests over the Centre’s ‘Agnipath’ continued on Friday morning for a third consecutive day with agitators setting two coaches of a passenger train on fire in Bihar. After the violence grew, the government raised the upper age limit to 23 years from 21 years for recruitment under the scheme for the year 2022.
Agnipath scheme protest
After the government announced the Agnipath scheme, hundreds of army young aspirants took to the streets, pouring their anger on public and private property. Trains were set on fire, window panes of buses were smashed, and some BJP MLAs were attacked.
In Bihar, Slogans were raised against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Along with the railways, the national highway was also blocked. There have also been incidents of burning tires, stone pelting, and vandalism of cars and trains. Clashes reportedly broke out when the police tried to stop the protesters.
The aspirants said they are unhappy with the changes introduced under the new recruitment scheme for the Indian Army.
What is the Agnipath scheme? What is Agniveer?
The government earlier this week announced the Agnipath scheme to recruit soldiers for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The main goals behind launching the scheme are to lower the age profile of the armed forces and control the ballooning pension bills. The scheme was launched as more money was being spent on salaries and pensions than on the much-needed modernization of the armed forces.
Under the scheme, youth aged between 17.5 years to 21 years (later changed to 23) will be recruited directly from educational institutions or via recruitment rallies. They will be recruited under a contract. They will be subjected to a 6-month strict training regime and 3.5 years of active service. After four years of being in the armed forces, only 25 percent of the most driven and best-performing soldiers will be offered to extend their stay with the forces for 15 years. These soldiers will be called Agniveers. The government plans to recruit around 40,000 soldiers via the new system.
The protesters are bothered with the Agnipath scheme as the new age restriction will block many from recruitment rallies. Under the old system, young men aged 16.5-21 were selected for a minimum of 15 years. After their retirement, they would receive a pension. The new system completely rebuilds the old system. Now they can be recruited between the ages of 17.5-21. The length of service will be limited to 4 years for most of the recruits.
“We demand that the recruitment be done as it used to be done earlier. Tour of Duty (ToD) be rolled back and exams are held as earlier. Nobody will go to the Army for just four years,” a protester said.
Another protester said, “Where will we go after working for only four years? We will be homeless after four years of service. So we have jammed the roads. We work hard to get inducted into the Armed forces. How will the service be for four years, with months of training and leaves? How will we protect the nation after getting trained for just three years? The government has to take back this scheme”.