Several Indian Army aspirants too have criticised the scheme and taken to the streets in protest. They have opposed the absence of any pension fund under the scheme and also the short period of employment guarantee that it offers. (Image: AP)

Several Indian Army aspirants too have criticised the scheme and taken to the streets in protest. They have opposed the absence of any pension fund under the scheme and also the short period of employment guarantee that it offers. (Image: AP)

13.30 Agnipath scheme rolled out after wide-ranging consultations: Rajnath Singh

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on June 18 strongly defended the new military recruitment model saying it was rolled out after wide-ranging consultations including with the ex-servicemen and suggested that a “misunderstanding” is being spread for political reasons.

He said the scheme will bring revolutionary changes in the enrolment process for soldiers, asserting that there will be no compromise on the quality of training to be imparted to the personnel to be recruited under the scheme.

“It is bringing revolutionary changes in the recruitment process in the armed forces. Some people are spreading misunderstanding about it. Maybe, there could be some confusion among the people as it is a new scheme,” Singh said speaking at a conclave organised by the TV9 media group.

The defence minister said the scheme was rolled out after around two years of deliberations including with the ex-servicemen community and a decision was taken based on a consensus.

“We wanted that there is a sense of discipline and pride for the country among the people,” he said. Without taking the name of any political party, the defence minister suggested that some of the protests against the ‘Agnipath’ scheme could be based on political considerations.

“There are so many issues to show any political party in poor light. But whatever politics we do, whether remaining in the opposition or in the government, it is for the country,” he said. The defence minister further added, “Should we lower the morale of the soldiers of the country? This is not justice.”

In his address, the defence minister said the personnel to be recruited under the ‘Agnipath scheme’ will be given priority in the selection for various jobs by state governments, private industries, public sector undertakings and paramilitary forces.

“They will be given priority in selection in various government departments. ‘Agniveer’ is not just the name of bringing new recruits into the armed forces. But, they will also be given the same quality training that the soldiers of the military are getting today. Training time may be short but the quality will not be compromised,” he said.

Referring to the financial package of Rs 11.71 lakh to be given to each of the ‘Agniveers’ after completion of the four-year tenure, Singh said the government will also facilitate providing loans at the low-interest rates if they need additional resources to start new ventures.

“Our government is making schemes so that the Agniveers when they come out after serving for four years, get employment,” he said.

13.19 PM Narendra Modi will have to become ‘maafiveer’, take back ‘Agnipath’: Rahul Gandhi

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on June 18 said that just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to withdraw the farm laws, he will have to accept the demand of the youth and rollback the Agnipath defence recruitment scheme.

The former Congress chief also said that for eight consecutive years, the BJP government has “insulted” the values of ’Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’.

In a tweet in Hindi, Rahul Gandhi said, “I had said earlier also that the prime minister will have to withdraw the black farm laws.” ”In the same manner, he will have to accept the demand of the youth of the country by becoming ’maafiveer’ and take back the ’Agnipath’ scheme,” he said.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also stepped up her attack on the government over the Agnipath scheme and urged the Centre to understand the pain of the rural youth preparing for recruitment in the armed forces.

In a tweet in Hindi, Priyanka Gandhi said, “Understand the pain of the rural youth preparing for Army recruitment. No recruitment for the past three years. They have blisters on their feet due to running continuously, they are desperate.”

“Youths were waiting for the Air force recruitment results and appointments. The government took away their permanent recruitment, rank, pension and stalled recruitment,” Priyanka Gandhi alleged.

She also shared a copy of a letter she wrote to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in March over delays in recruitment in the armed forces. She had urged Singh to take necessary steps to ensure that the hard work of aspirants is respected. In her letter dated March 29, Priyanka Gandhi had flagged the problems being faced by youths in recruitment in the armed forces.

12.30 Massive protest rally in Kerala

Hundreds of youth in Thiruvananthapuram on June 18 took out a massive protest march against the Centre’s decision to implement the new Agnipath scheme for the recruitment of soldiers, airmen and sailors.

Large number of army job aspirants, who have been reportedly waiting to get enrolled into the defence service, gathered at Thampanoor, located in the heart of the city, in the morning and marched to Raj Bhavan, the official residence of Governor Arif Mohammed Khan.

They could be seen raising slogans against the Union government’s new military recruitment scheme and holding placards and banners urging the authorities to withdraw their decision at the earliest. The protesting youth were reportedly hailing from various parts of the southern state.

An agitating man said they would continue the strike till the Centre rolls back its decision and justice is ensured to them.

“Many of us have decided to join the army and started preparations for the examination after dropping our graduation studies midway. What will we do if the Centre goes ahead with this scheme? Our future will be in peril. So, we will continue our fight till we get justice,” he said. (PTI)

12.25 India suspends Internet in eastern state over military recruitment protests

Indian authorities suspended Internet services in several parts of the eastern state of Bihar in a bid to stop public gatherings and violent protests over a military recruitment plan, police officials said on June 18.

The Agnipath or “path of fire” system aims to bring more people into the military on four-year contracts to lower the average age of India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces and cut burgeoning pension costs, the government said.

Protesters, mainly young men, say the plan will limit opportunities for permanent jobs with the defence forces, which guarantee fixed salaries, pensions and other benefits. Many took to the streets in Bihar, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to protest against this plan.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have been blocked in 15 of 38 districts of Bihar, said Sanjay Singh, a senior police official in the state, where protesters burned passenger trains and buses this week to express their outrage.

“I didn’t anticipate any protests like this,” Admiral R. Hari Kumar told Reuters TV partner ANI. “It is the single biggest human resource management transformation that has ever happened in the Indian military.” (Reuters)

10.17 After raising age limit, home ministry keeps 10% quota for Agniveers in CAPF, Assam Rifles

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will reserve 10 percent vacancies for recruitment in the CAPFs and Assam Rifles for ‘Agniveers’, the office of home minister Amit Shah tweeted on June 18.

Further, the MHA will also provide three years age relaxation beyond the prescribed upper age limit to Agniveers for recruitment in CAPFs and Assam Rifles, the ministry tweet said.

It added that for the first batch of Agniveers, the age relaxation will be for five years beyond the prescribed upper age limit.

The modifications to the contentious defence recruitment scheme dubbed ‘Agnipath’ comes after three-days of nation-wide riots and protests which culminated in the death of one in police firing in Telangana’s Secunderabad.

Also Read | Agnipath row: 15 held, 225 booked for violence, blocking expressway near Noida during protest

9.42 15 held, 225 booked for violence, blocking expressway near Noida during protest

Protests against the Centre’s Agnipath scheme continued on Friday as scores of youngsters descended on the Yamuna Expressway and blocked traffic movement briefly, prompting Gautam Buddh Nagar police to lodge an FIR against 225 protesters and arrest 15, officials said.

The police said in a statement that it has arrested 10 people and lodged an FIR against 225 people in connection with the protests that obstructed vehicular movement during the day.  The number of arrests was later updated to 15, according to UP ADG (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar. “The road was blocked by some chaotic elements, protesting in unison and pelting stones.

Of those accused, 75 are named and 225 unnamed, the police said. The FIR has been lodged under Indian Penal Code sections 147, 148, 149 (all related to rioting), 323 (causing hurt), 504 (insult to provoke breach of peace), 332 (causing hurt to deter public servant from duty), 353 (assault on public servant), 336 (endangering others’ life), 341 (wrongful restraint) and 427 (mischief), the police said.

Charges under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932 have also been invoked in the FIR, according to the statement. “So far, 10 people have been arrested. Efforts are underway to establish identity of others involved in the violence with the help of CCTV footages, videos and pictures after which strict legal action will be taken against them,” the police said earlier.

7.28 Agnipath unrest singes nation, turns train stations, highways into battleground

A man was shot dead in police firing in Telangana’s Secunderabad, trains went up in flames, and public and private vehicles attacked, as railway stations and highways turned into battleground in many states on Friday amid worsening protests against Agnipath, the contentious defence recruitment scheme. The 24 year-old Rakesh, an Army aspirant from Dabeerpet village in Warangal district, was the first victim of the violent unrest sweeping across the country since Wednesday.

Assurances by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah and the Army chief failed to cut the ice with hordes of angry youth, carrying bamboo sticks and stones, storming railway premises across cities and small towns and laying siege to highways, creating a security scare.

The Indian Railways cancelled 234 trains, while 340 have been affected due to the protests. Coaches of seven trains have so far been set ablaze by protesters, officials said, adding carriages of three running trains in the East Central Railway (ECR), headquartered in Bihar’s Hajipur, and one empty rake in Kulharia, also in the same zone, were damaged by protestors. One coach of a train was also damaged in the washing line at Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia. So far, 64 trains were short terminated in ECR.

As the depredations against the recruitment scheme continued for the third day across large parts of India, from Uttar Pradesh to Telangana and Bihar to Madhya Pradesh, Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and Army chief Gen Manoj Pande tried to assuage the concerns of the agitators with little success. Though not as intense, protests were also organised in Jharkhand, Punjab and Rajasthan.

Events so far

Protests have erupted in several Indian states since June 16 against the Agnipath scheme, which seeks to recruit soldiers into the Army, Navy and Air Force for a four-year-period, followed by compulsory retirement for most, without gratuity and pension benefits.

Since then, 24-year-old Army aspirant Rakesh from Warangal was shot to death by police in Secunderabad, trains have been burnt in Bihar, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh, vehicles attacked and pelted with stones, and railways stations, rail tracks and highways blocked by squatting protestors across — in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh, and on a smaller scale in Rajasthan, Punjab and Jharkhand.

Assurances by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah and the Army Chief General Manoj Pande failed to cut the ice with hordes of angry youth, carrying bamboo sticks and stones, storming railway premises across cities and small towns and laying siege to highways, creating a security scare.

Also Read | Agnipath unrest singes nation, turns train stations, highways into battleground

The Indian Railways cancelled 234 trains, while 340 have been affected due to the protests.

Students’ organisations such as the CPI-ML (Liberation)-linked AISA, have called a state-wide bandh in Bihar on June 18. The opposition Grand Alliance’s spearhead RJD has extended support to the bandh.

Government’s moves

This is the MHA’s newest move to assuage protestors’ ire. On June 16 night, the upper age limit for Agnipath was raised to 23 from 21 for 2022.

Home Minister Shah had said this would benefit a large number of youth, while Gen. Pande called it the “right decision”, adding that it will provide opportunity for youth preparing to join the force but couldn’t in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in a tweet thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “his concern and sensitivity towards the future of youths”, adding that the scheme is a “golden opportunity”.

In Pics | Protestors set trains on fire to protest against ‘Agnipath military scheme’

Internet services have been suspended in 12 of Bihar’s 38 districts to check the spread of false news, ADG (Law and Order) Sanjay Singh said.

Following violent protests in Palwal, Haryana government suspended mobile internet and SMS services for 24 hours in Ballabhgarh area of Faridabad district as a precautionary measure.

Delhi was relatively quiet but Metro travel was disrupted with members of the Left-affiliated All India Students’ Association staging demonstrations. The entry and exit gates of some Delhi Metro stations had to be closed.

What’s the scheme so far?

— Unveiling the scheme on June 14, the government said youths between the ages of 17 and-a-half and 21 years would be inducted for a four-year tenure while 25 percent of them will be subsequently inducted for regular service.

— Youth to be recruited under the new scheme would be called ‘Agniveer’.

— A major objective of the scheme is to bring down the average age of military personnel and cut ballooning salary and pension bills.

— In an attempt to pacify the protesters, the government on June 16 night increased the upper age limit for recruitment under the ‘Agnipath’ scheme to 23 years from 21 for the year 2022.

— The monthly salary of an ‘Agniveer’ in the first year of employment would be Rs 30,000 and the in-hand amount would be Rs 21,000 as Rs 9,000 would go to a corpus with an equal contribution from the government.

— Subsequently, the monthly salary in the second, third and fourth year will be Rs 33,000, Rs 36,500 and Rs 40,000. Each ‘Agniveer’ will get an amount of Rs 11.71 lakh as ‘Seva Nidhi Package’ and it will be exempted from income tax.

— The four-year tenure under the new scheme will include around two-and-half months to six months of training periods.

Agnipath on pause?

It does not seem like the scheme is halted. Unfazed by the intensifying protests, the Army, Navy and the Air Force on June 17 announced that they will start the enrolment process under the new model by next week.

Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari told PTI that the selection process by the Indian Air Force for recruitment under the new scheme will start from June 24, while the Army said it will begin the initial exercise within two days.

The Indian Navy said it will start the recruitment process “very soon”. A senior naval commander said the notification for the recruitment will be out within a week.

The three services are planning to deploy the first batches of recruits under the new scheme, both in operational and non-operational roles, by June next year, senior military officials said.

(With inputs from PTI, Reuters, ANI)