Amid countrywide protests, a Bharat Bandh, and the Opposition’s criticism of the Agnipath defence recruitment scheme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said some decisions “may appear unfair” at first, but would help in nation-building later.
“Several decisions look unfair at present. In time, those decisions will help in building the nation,” the PM said addressing a gathering in Bengaluru, but without mentioning the scheme by name. The Army issued a notification for the first round of recruitment on Monday. Registration for the recruitment rallies begins from July, it said.
However, the country continued to be roiled by anger, and more protests are in store. On June 24, farmers’ collective Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) will hold a nationwide protest against the scheme, farmer leader Rakesh Tikait said on Monday, seeking the support of youths, civil society, and political parties for the demonstrations. Originally, the protest was planned for June 30. It will be held at tehseel and district headquarters. Tikait’s Bharat Kisan Union (BKU) was part of the SKM-led 2020-21 protests against the now-withdrawn farm laws in Delhi.
On Monday, much of north India saw mayhem and inconvenience. While there were no reports of arson or attacks, more than 500 trains were cancelled to prevent damage to property. Passengers kept waiting for trains, in many cases, stranded at railway stations with no word about when their train would arrive.
Thousands of vehicles were stuck at Delhi-Gurugram and Delhi-Noida entrypoints due to security checks. Police at the entrypoints of the national capital were keeping a strict vigil on all vehicles to ensure no Agnipath protester managed to enter Delhi. Thousands of Opposition Congress workers across the country were taken into custody — they were protesting both at the continued questioning of leader Rahul Gandhi and the recruitment scheme.
A delegation of Congress leaders also met President Ram Nath Kovind and marched to the Parliament House demanding that the government withdraw the scheme.
In Punjab, Delhi, and at other railway stations, police bandobast was deployed in force to deter any attacks on railway property. But despite this, Youth Congress workers stopped a train at Delhi’s Shivaji Bridge railway station.
“The government of India needs to roll back the Agniveer scheme. Youth Congress will fight for the unemployed youth of this country, who want to serve the country and arm its forces,” the Youth Congress statement read.
The Bharat Bandh saw no shops shutting. Business went on as usual in most parts of the country.
There wasn’t the slightest indication that the government was planning a roll back of the scheme or even considering diluting it. The Indian Army’s notification indicated clearly that Agnipath remains the only entrypoint for soldiers into the Army, except technical cadres of the medical branch.
Online registration is mandatory on www.joinindianarmy.nic.in once it is opened from July. ‘Agniveer’ will be a distinct rank, says the notification. It says the Agniveer’s pay is “a composite package” and “he will not be eligible for any dearness allowance and military service pay”.
The Agniveer soldier “will get applicable risk and hardship, ration, dress, and travel allowances”.
The recruits will get life insurance cover of Rs 48 lakh for the duration of their engagement period, it adds.
The government has announced measures to address the protesters’ reservations. The Home Ministry has already decided to give three years of age relaxation and a 10 per cent reservation to Agniveers for recruitment in the Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles.
While those who join after Class 10 will get a Class 12 certificate at the end of four years, an easier three-year bachelor’s degree after the four-year service has been announced for those who already have passed Class 12.
Union Minister Hardeep Puri has said public sector units under his housing and petroleum ministries are also working on plans to induct Agniveers. Some business group owners also tweeted that they would give jobs to these recruits. BJP’s Kailash Vijayavargiya drew outrage in social media when he said Agniveers would be honoured by jobs as guards at BJP offices when they retired. He has since said his remarks were misconstrued.