Aspirants across half a dozen districts in Bihar Thursday blocked rail and road traffic and also vandalised some shops and private establishments to protest against Agnipath, the central government’s new recruitment policy for the defence forces. Protesters have been demanding the reinstatement of the previous recruitment system. No casualty has been reported from anywhere, according to the police.
“What is this four-year service? People talk of catching us young, they are planning to retire us young,” said Manoj Kumar, a protesting student in Bhagalpur. The Bhojpur police had to use teargas to disperse students after they torched the engine of a stationary passenger train at the Ara railway station. About half a dozen trains have been delayed because of the protests. Students also uprooted some chairs at the railway platform. They were also seen doing pushups at several protest sites.
Two days after the government unveiled its Agnipath scheme for recruiting soldiers across the three services, protests raged in several cities against the new defence recruitment path with aspirants raising job security and post-service benefits as their major concerns.
Job security and pension are two major issues being cited by protesters. Under the previous system, troops joined for a 17-year period, which could be extended for some personnel, and it resulted in a lifelong pension. The new scheme, however, envisages just a four-year tenure for most, and the Agniveers will not be eligible for pension benefits. Mohan Kumar, a protesting student from Bihar’s Chhapra, said: “This Agnipath scheme is just a placebo being given to unemployed youth. Even parents would now think twice before sending their sons to the Army just for four years.”
Opining on the newly introduced recruitment scheme for the armed forces, PB Mehra writes: “The structure of the military has immense ramifications for security, and also for social organisation at large. The Agnipath scheme is a major structural reform with consequences both for the armed forces and society at large. Some reforms and restructuring of the armed forces was overdue. Sometimes, scepticism about reforms reflects an underlying status quo bias, rather than an assessment of needs. But it is also the case that this Agnipath is as much about creating a political illusion of reform as it is about addressing the armed forces’ needs. The spin given to the reform needs to be treated with a lot more caution.” He adds: “Reform of the armed forces should be governed by a sound sociological, professional, institutional and strategic logic. Agnipath fails the smell test on all four.”