The Centre's Agnipath recruitment scheme for Indian youth in the armed forces, termed a historic and transformative measure, has met unprecedented level of agitations and protests in several states across India.
Massive protests erupted in Bihar, Rajasthan and some other states against the recruitment scheme, over concerns of job security and other issues. However, many states have also announced schemes where such 'Agniveers', as the beneficiaries of this move are dubbed, can get advantage.
The Agnipath recruitment scheme was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security on Tuesday. Under the scheme, around 46,000 youths, aged between 17 and a half and 21, will be recruited into the three services in a contract for four years.
However, after two days, defence service aspirants disrupted rail and road traffic in several parts of Bihar in protest against the recruitment scheme for its limited term of employment followed by compulsory retirement for most without gratuity and pension benefits. The agitation turned violent in the state's Munger and Jehanabad as agitators burned tyres, vandalised buses and set trains on fire while raising slogans against the scheme.
Talking to IANS, Jehanabad MLA Kumar Krishnamohan aka Suday Yadav termed the scheme suicidal for students who are preparing to join the defence services and said that the government has deceived the students by changing the norms.
"Bihar is a state of youths and all are facing sense of unemployment after this decision," he said, adding that Bihar has always shown the path to the nation through several movements and this protest will also show the path ahead. On the agitation turning violent, he said that in any protest, partial damage occurs in any form.
The protests, which started in Bihar, have now spread to Uttar Pradesh and Haryana and other states. Aspirants said they are unhappy with the changes introduced under the new recruitment scheme. Among many other demands, the students are raising their concerns for over the term, no pension provisions for those released early, and the age restriction that now makes many of them ineligible.
"We demand that exam should be held as it was done earlier. No one would like to join the armed forces only for just four years," a agitating student told IANS.
"We are practicing from years to get selected into the Army. Now we have come to know that it will be on contractual term only for four years which is not fair for students like us," another aspirant said.
Rashtriya Janta Dal MLA from Gayaghat Niranjan Roy told IANS that there is no meaning in the scheme for joining the service for four years. People join Army to serve the country but how one can do that in such situation of finding another job after four years, he asked, but added that the protests must be peaceful.
The opposition also hit hit out the government over the Agnipath scheme. The Congress said that the scheme carries multiple risks and subverts the longstanding traditions and ethos of the armed forces.
Addressing a press conference at the party headquarters, former Union Minister P Chidambaram said the scheme is "controversial, carries multiple risks, subverts the long-standing traditions and ethos of the armed forces and there is no guarantee that the soldiers recruited under the scheme will be better trained and motivated to defend the country".
As the country witnessed agitation and protest in several states on Thursday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted: "The central government's new scheme in army recruitment is being opposed everywhere in the country. Young people are very angry. The demands are just right. The Army is the pride of our country, our youth want to give their whole life to the country, don't keep their dreams tied in 4 years".