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Angry Youth Take to Streets Over Agnipath Scheme Across States

They (BJP) took votes for ‘One Rank One Pension’, but have left us with ‘No Rank, No Pension,” said a protester.

New Delhi: Protests by angry youth against the recently announced Agnipath scheme for recruitment in the Armed Forces are spreading like wildfire, especially across North India.

On Thursday, there were reports of violence and arson from some areas of Bihar while angry youth were seen protesting on the streets in huge numbers in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Jammu, Delhi NCR and other areas.

Aspiring youth, who have pinned their hopes on the Armed Forces, were heard lashing out at the Modi government for betraying them. “They took votes for 'One Rank One Pension’, but have left us with ‘No Rank, No Pension,’ a protesting youth in UP’s Bulandshahr was heard saying in some video clips.

Why Are Youth Angry?

There is a general feeling, especially after the long-drawn farmers’ movement against the now withdrawn three farm laws, that the Narendra Modi government has no concern for those living in rural India. It is a fact that there is growing unemployment among rural youth, MGNREGA jobs are also becoming tough, especially after reverse migration following the sudden and poorly thought out pandemic-induced lockdown. Job losses in urban area and falling wages in the informal sector as well as private sector have also led to a large number of youth taking to exploitative gig economy jobs.

Government jobs are the only hope for the vast army of jobless youth especially in rural India, whose families are also hit by rising food and fuel prices. But, the Modi government has not filled up lakhs of vacancies yet. Only this week, the Centre announced filling up  of 10 lakh vacancies in 1.5 years, which is too little, too late. Though a welcome move, it is being seen as the Modi government’s bid to blunt Opposition criticism ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

With an eye on the 2024 elections, the Modi government also announced the Agnipath scheme for recruitment in the Armed Forces – Army, Navy and Indian Air Force. The Armed Forces are the most coveted jobs, as these come with good perks, such as subsidised health, food, education and retirement benefits. Families spend a lot on educating and coaching their children to get these jobs as these assure them a lifetime of security. That hope is crashing now.

What is Agnipath Scheme?

The Agnipath scheme, announced by defence minister Rajnath Singh, aims to create ‘Agniveers’ among Indian youth, even after they are not absorbed by the Armed Forces.

Under the scheme, 45,000 - 50,000 youth will be recruited annually for a period of four years, after which most of them will leave and rejoin the general workforce. Only 25% will be absorbed by the Armed Forces, that too for only 15 years under the permanent commission that will entitle them to all the perks and pension.

This move will led to making permanent force levels in the Army, Navy and Air Force, drastically leaner for the over 13-lakh strong armed forces in the country, as well as save the government a massive amount in defence pension payouts.

Recruitments will be done for youth between ages 17.5 years and 21 years, basically immediately after school, twice a year through rallies.

The selected aspirants will then be given training for six months and will be deployed in services for the rest 3.5 years. During this period, they will get a starting salary of Rs 30,000, along with additional benefits which will go up to Rs 40,000 by the end of the four-year service. During this period, 30% of their salary will be put in the Seva Nidhi programme. The government will contribute an equal amount and there would also be some interest income.

At the end of the four-year period, each soldier will get Rs 11.71 lakh as a lump sum, which will be tax-free, as also Rs 48 lakh life insurance cover for the four years.

In case of death, the payout will be over Rs 1 crore, including pay for the unserved tenure, according to the Indian Express.

What’s Happening Now

Two days after the defence minister announced the scheme, the youth are up in arms across several states, especially in North India. A train was set ablaze, rails and road traffic was disrupted as lakhs of youth took to the streets in protest.

“Where will we go after working for only four years? We will be homeless after 4 years of service,” a protester in Jehanabad told ANI.

“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? Govt has to take back this scheme,” another one told ANI.


Protesters Block Gurugram-Jaipur Highway

Gurugram: Hundreds of young people on Thursday took to the streets in Bilaspur and Sidhrawali areas of Gurugram and Rewari, some 50 km away, against the 'Agnipath' scheme unveiled by the Centre earlier this week to recruit soldiers largely on a short-term contractual basis.

The scheme involves recruitment of the jawans into the army, the navy and the air force for a four-year-period followed by compulsory retirement for most without gratuity and pension benefits.

The protesters laid a virtual seize on bus stands and roads, crippling traffic on the Gurugram-Jaipur

Ex-soldier and senior Congress leader Captain Ajay Yadav in a statement said that the scheme is aimed to demean the spirit of forces and cut down on benefits being given to army jawans.

"Army is not a profession but passion and life. Our districts like Rewari send their sons to serve the nation every year and this demeans their passion. Over four lakh posts are vacant in the Army and this cheap attempt to compensate them with small contract employment is unacceptable," Yadav said.

Army aspirants protest in Jammu

Jammu: Army aspirants on Thursday staged a protest here against the Agnipath scheme to recruit jawans on a contractual basis for a four-year-period followed by compulsory retirement for most without gratuity and pension benefits.

Most of these aspirants have cleared their medical and physical tests for their recruitment in the army last year and were awaiting the written examination, but it now stands cancelled.

 "We submitted our forms for the recruitment in the army in February 2020 but the process started a year later due to COVID-19 outbreak. The written test was initially scheduled for April 25 last year but was postponed several times," Munish Sharma, an army aspirant, said.

 Sharma was among a large number of youngsters who assembled outside the Press Club here to protest against the new recruitment scheme.

 "Today, we came to know that the process for our recruitment stands cancelled and we have to re-apply in accordance with Agnipath. It is a great injustice to us," he said, adding that the new scheme had rendered "the youth hopeless".

 He said the protesting aspirants worked hard over the last couple of years to ensure their selection in the army.

 Another army aspirant Sourav Gangotra said the pension bills of MPs and MLAs are increasing but the government is not willing to provide pensions to aspiring soldiers.

He demanded that the new scheme be withdrawn and written examination for the vacancies announced previously be held at the earliest.

 Another group of youngsters staged a protest at Arnia in R S Pura sector in the outskirts of Jammu. They blocked the main road and also burnt tyres before being persuaded by the police to disperse.

 "This government is playing with our future. We want our selection as per the old recruitment scheme as we have already cleared the physical and medical tests last year," Gourav Manhas, a protester, said.

Over 34 Trains Cancelled: Railways

New Delhi: Over 34 trains were cancelled and eight more partially cancelled on Thursday due to protests against the "Agnipath" scheme to recruit youngsters into the armed forces and delays in the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) exams.

The railways said 72 trains were also running late due to the protests.

Five mail and express trains and 29 passenger trains were cancelled.

At Nangloi, protesters blocked the railway track and raised slogans against the recently-announced scheme.

The Delhi Police said they received information at around 9.45 am that 15-20 people gathered at the Nangloi railway station to protest against the Agnipath scheme as also the delay in the RRB exams.

The protesters told the police that they had filled up forms for some government examinations two-three years ago but the exams were not held and they have become over-aged now. The protesters were pacified and dispersed by the police around noon.

A total of 22 trains were cancelled in the East Central Railway zone alone.

RLP leads Protest in Rajasthan

Jaipur: Scores of defence job aspirants led by the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) staged protests in several parts of Rajasthan on Thursday against the Centre's Agnipath scheme for four-year contractual recruitment in the armed forces.

Job aspirants and RLP activists took out protest rallies in Jodhpur, Sikar, Jaipur, Nagaur, Ajmer and Jhunjhunu districts and raised slogans against the central government.

In Jaipur, a large number of youths demonstrated at the district collectorate and raised slogans against the scheme and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. RLP national convener and MP Hanuman Beniwal participated in the protest here.

"The central government will have to bow down and roll back the scheme. The jawans on whose strength the prime minister is at the pinnacle of power will give a lesson to the BJP in 2024," Beniwal said while addressing the gathering.

The RLP was an ally of the NDA government at the Centre and broke its ties after three farm laws were passed by the Centre. However, the party recently supported an independent candidate backed by the BJP in the Rajya Sabha polls.

(with inputs from PTI)

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