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Trade Unions Extend Support to Farmers’ Protest Call Against Agnipath Scheme

Ronak Chhabra |
The Central Trade Unions (CTUs) on Thursday said that they extend support to the nationwide call of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) to observe June 24 as Protest Day.

New Delhi: Days after flaying the Central government for introducing an “anti-national” Agnipath scheme that has also sparked multiple protests last week across different cities in the country, trade unions have now decided to join hands with the farmers to press for the withdrawal of the new armed forces recruitment policy.

The Central Trade Unions (CTUs) on Thursday said that they extend support to the nationwide call of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) to observe June 24 as Protest Day. The statement has been signed by 10 unions, including AITUC, CITU, INTUC, HMS, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF, and UTUC.

SKM, which had earlier spearheaded the movement of farmers that ensured repealing of the three contentious farm legislations last year, announced this week that all its constituent farmers’ organisations – there are over 40 – will register their opposition against the “anti-military, anti-farmer, and anti-national” recruitment policy for the armed forces.

The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and the Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) had also issued statements expressing dismay over the Agnipath scheme and demanded its immediate withdrawal.

The CTUs and independent sectoral federations and associations of workers in the country have taken note of the “widespread anger” of the country’s youth against the “retrograde” Agnipath scheme, trade unions said on Thursday.

The scheme is “dubiously designed to degenerate and casualise the quality of employment even in country’s armed forces through fixed-term contract, that too without any pensionary benefit, not to speak of post-retirement medical and other social security,” their statement added.

The retired military commanders have warned that the new policy will weaken the country’s military establishment and that it will also “endanger society at large,” CTUs further remarked.

According to them, the new scheme is “another step intended to take the nation into an uncertain future, with disastrous consequences.”

Under the Agnipath scheme, unveiled earlier last week, around 45,000 below-officer rank personnel, called Agniveers, will be recruited within 90 days for only four years – as against the present average service period of 17 years for a new non-commissioned recruit.

The scheme also calls for retaining a fourth of the recruited soldiers based on merit and performance in the armed forces for another 15 years. The rest will be provided with a tax-free exit package of Rs 11.71 lakhs and will be prioritised for other jobs.

Thousands of youth took to the streets in states including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, among others, soon after the introduction of the Agnipath scheme to express their outrage over the new military recruitment plan. The recruitment was incidentally halted for the last two years owing to challenges put forth by the pandemic.

To contain the spiralling protests that also turned violent in several cities – with protestors resorting to burning trains and damaging public property – the Centre announced few concessions for those who will serve under the scheme. This included a 10% reservation in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and Assam Rifles, an Indian Army unit, for those who pass the army after the mandated four-year period under the scheme.

The Union Ministry of Defence also announced that it would reserve 10% jobs in the ministerial positions, spread across the Coast Guard and civilian defence posts and all the 16 defence public sector undertakings – in addition to existing reservations for veterans.

Amarjeet Kaur, national general secretary, AITUC, called these announcements “nothing but lollipops.”

On one hand, the Centre is pushing for privatisation and outsourcing of government departments’ operations, and on the other hand, it is promising reservation to the angry youth in these establishments,” she said while speaking to NewsClick on Thursday.

Kaur added that the national protest day against the Agnipath scheme would only intensify the struggle against the new military recruitment plan.

There will be peaceful protests across the country – both in rural areas and urban centres – by workers and farmers,” she said.

We will continue to keep the pressure on the Centre to reverse course on its new policy, she added.

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