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Protests against Agnipath scheme turn violent; trains, vehicles torched

Source: PTI   -  Edited By: Hemant Waje
Last updated on: June 16, 2022 22:00 IST
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Trains were set afire and blocked, and public vehicles attacked as protests over 'Agnipath' swept across several places in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Jammu on Thursday amid partisan political voices in favour and against the new recruitment scheme for the defence forces that has set off a firestorm.

IMAGE: Smoke billows out after youngsters set fire to a train in protest against the 'Agnipath' scheme, in Chhapra on Thursday. Photograph: ANI Photo

Bihar bore the brunt of the violence with trains set ablaze, window panes of buses smashed and passersby, including a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party MLA, pelted with stones on Thursday, the second day of the protest against the scheme which envisages a short four-year term for soldiers in the three armed forces entailing no gratuity or pension upon retirement.

 

Police fired teargas shells and used baton to break up protests by angry youngsters who blocked railway tracks, threw burning tyres on roads, and performed push-ups and other drills on the streets against the new recruitment policy.

In Nawada, the vehicle of BJP MLA Aruna Devi, who was on her way to a court, was attacked by the agitators, leaving five persons, including the legislator, injured.

Railway property was vandalised and protesters set fire to stationary carriages at Bhabhua and Chhapra stations and smashed window panes of coaches at many places.

Over 34 trains were cancelled and eight more partially cancelled due to the protests and delays in the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) exams, railway sources said in New Delhi.

They said 72 trains were also running late due to the agitation.

At Nangloi in New Delhi, protesters blocked the railway track and raised slogans against the scheme.

The Indian Youth Congress took out a rally from Kerala House to Jantar Mantar but were stopped by police.

IMAGE: Army aspirants block traffic movement at Bilaspur Chowk area in Gurugram. Photograph: PTI Photo

Another group of people said they were staging a peaceful protest at Connaught Place but were detained by police.

They also accused the police of using force against them.

Protests erupted in at least six districts of Uttar Pradesh, with slogan-shouting young men blocking roads and pelting stones.

The protesters hurled stones at buses in Aligarh and Agra.

There were protests also in Bulandshahr, Mathura, Firozabad and Ballia districts over the new recruitment scheme for defence services, officials said.

Authorities stopped trains at Ballia and the neighbouring districts as a precautionary measure.

In Aligarh, the youths pelted stones at a passenger bus on the highway connecting the district to Ghaziabad.

While some window panes of the bus were broken, no passenger was injured in the incident, officials said.

Vehicular traffic in Aligarh was affected for over two hours.

Senior police officers persuaded the protesters to vacate the highway and assured them that their demands would be conveyed to the authorities concerned.

In Ranchi, hundreds of Army aspirants took to the streets in protest, defying the prohibitory order imposed in some areas following a violent protest on June 10.

The armed forces aspirants who came from different parts of the state, assembled at the Army recruitment office on Main Road and shouted slogans demanding a rollback of the decision.

However, police officers arrived at the spot and persuaded the youngsters to withdraw their protest.

After police persuasion, the job aspirants moved towards Ranchi railway station.

Railway Protection Force (RPF) stopped the protestors from entering the railway station and they were not allowed to demonstrate.

IMAGE: Youngsters stage protest outside Ranchi Railway station. Photograph: PTI Photo

Young men torched government vehicles in Palwal as protests erupted in half a dozen districts of Haryana.

The authorities imposed prohibitory orders and suspended mobile internet services in Palwal to stop the spread rumours through social media platforms.

Protests also took place in Gurugram, Rewari, Charkhi Dadri, Hisar and Rohtak.

Palwal DSP (Headquarters) Anil Kumar said over 20 youths have been rounded up.

Five government vehicles were set on fire by the protesters while stones were thrown at the residence of the Palwal deputy commissioner, he said. The deputy commissioner wasn't there at the time of the incident and no one was injured, he said.

A police vehicle was damaged in stone pelting and Agra Chowk on National Highway-19 was blocked. Police used tear gas and resorted to mild cane charge to disperse the protesters.

Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) have been imposed in Palwal.

A statement said the government ordered the suspension of mobile internet and SMS services in Palwal district for next 24 hours starting 4 pm on Thursday.

The DSP said now the situation is under control.

Meanwhile, hundreds of young people took to streets in Gurugram and Rewari with protesters blocking highways.

Protests were also held in Charkhi Dadri, Hisar and Rohtak districts.

In Gurugram's Bilaspur and Sidhrawali, protesters laid a virtual seize to bus stands and roads, and held a protest at Bilaspur Chowk, crippling traffic on the Gurugram-Jaipur highway.

Heavy police force was rushed to these spots.

Meanwhile, the protest at Hodal came to end after two hours of blockade.

IMAGE: Youngsters raise slogans during a protest against Agnipath scheme, in Meerut. Photograph: PTI Photo

In Madhya Pradesh, protests broke out in Gwalior and Indore, police said.

As protesters pelted stones and set shops on fire near a railway station in Gwalior, train operations were affected for some time.

In Indore, nearly 150 youths protested against the Agnipath scheme.

A group of young men blocked a road at a busy intersection in Gwalior's Gola Ka Mandir area and burned an effigy, said Superintendent of Police Amit Sanghi.

The protesters then entered the Birla Nagar railway station and damaged some benches and a few shops, he said.

They later moved towards Gwalior station, but as police were present in strength there, they could not do much damage, the SP said.

The protesters pelted stones at a train and then began to gather in Padav area, he added.

Police used baton-charge and fired tear-gas shells, and now the situation was under control, the SP said.

Nobody was injured during the protests, and police will identify those who indulged in violence from video footage, Sanghi said.

In Indore, nearly 150 young men, holding the tricolour in their hands, staged a protest at Marimata Square, demanding rollback of the Agnipath scheme.

Later they submitted a memorandum of their demand to city officials.

Scores of defence job aspirants led by the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) staged protests in several parts of Rajasthan.

Job aspirants and RLP activists took out protest rallies in Jodhpur, Sikar, Jaipur, Nagaur, Ajmer and Jhunjhunu districts and raised slogans against the central government.

In Jaipur, a large number of youths demonstrated at the district collectorate and raised slogans against the scheme and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

RLP national convener and MP Hanuman Beniwal participated in the protest.

Additional police forces were deployed at these protest centres, a senior police officer said.

"No untoward incident has been reported from anywhere where protest is being held. The situation is peaceful," ADGP (Law and Order) Hawa Singh Ghumaria said.

Most of the aspirants who staged protests in Jammu have cleared their medical and physical tests for their recruitment in the army last year and were awaiting the written examination, but it now stands cancelled.

Another group of youngsters staged a protest at Arnia in R S Pura sector in the outskirts of Jammu.

They blocked the main road and also burnt tyres before being persuaded by the police to disperse.

IMAGE: Security personnel detain Indian Youth Congress (IYC) members during their Mashal March against Agnipath scheme, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

Many youths held a peaceful protest in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand, saying the Agnipath scheme will deprive them of the full-time employment avenue.

The protest was held peacefully at Siltham Chowk but it led to a brief traffic jam on Wadda, Munsiyari, Dharchula routes, Pithoragarh SDM Sundar Singh said.

However, the traffic disruption was brief as the protesting youths left for the collectorate to submit a memorandum.

There were protests in Kangra and Hamirpur districts of Himachal Pradesh against the Agnipath scheme.

The protesters in Kangra, led by Youth Congress district president Pankaj Kumar, tried to reach Dharamshala where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to hold a roadshow, but were stopped by police several km away at Gaggal.

The protesters raised slogans against the government and the prime minister and demanded the rollback of the scheme which they claimed was 'a cruel joke' on the unemployed youths of the country.

The police took away the protesters in a bus and dropped them at a place some distance away.

In Hamirpur district, hundreds of unemployed youngsters gathered at Gandhi Chowk Thursday morning and raised slogans against the government for launching the Agnipath scheme.

They demanded its immediate withdrawal and regular recruitment for them in the Indian Army.

They also took out a procession from Gandhi Chowk to the main bus stand in Hamirpur.

They tried to block road traffic, but were prevented by police.

A protest march was also taken out through the main bazaar of Hamirpur against the scheme.

As violent protests raged in multiple states, the government issued a clarification, asserting that the new model will not only bring in fresh capabilities to the armed forces but also open up avenues for youth in the private sector and help them become entrepreneurs with the aid of the severence package they will be entitled to on retirement.

Apart from issuing a 'Myth vs Facts' document to address the concerns raised about the scheme, the government's information dissemination arm issued a series of social media posts in its support.

'The scheme will bring in new dynamism to the armed forces. It will help the forces bring in new capabilities and take advantage of the technical skills and fresh thinking of the youths... It will allow the youths to serve the nation,' the Press Information Bureau said in a Facebook post.

Referring to the financial package of around Rs 11.71 lakh to be given to each of the recruits at the end of the four-year tenure from the 'Seva Nidhi Package', it said it will provide financial independence to the youth and even help them venture into entrepreneurship.

IMAGE: Protestors stage a demonstration against Agnipath scheme, at Chapra in Saran. Photograph: PTI Photo

On the criticism that the short tenure of 'Agniveers', the defence personnel recruited under the new system, will harm the effectiveness of the armed forces, government sources said such systems exist in several countries, and the one introduced in India is already 'tested out and considered best practice for an agile army'.

The numbers of 'Agniveers' to be recruited in the first year would only make up three per cent of the armed forces, they said, adding their performance will be tested before re-induction into the army after four years.

'Hence Army will get the tested and tried personnel for supervisory ranks,' they said.

The sources said most armies across the world depend on their youth and the new scheme will bring about a right mix of '50 per cent-50 per cent' youth and experience in the supervisory ranks in the long run.

Political parties, predictably, reacted along partisan lines with the Opposition stepping up its attack on the government and demanding that the scheme be scrapped.

'No rank, no pension, no direct recruitment for 2 years, no stable future after four years, no respect shown by the government for the army,' Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.

'Listen to the voice of unemployed youths of the country, don't take 'agnipareeksha' of their patience by making them walk on 'Agnipath', Mr prime minister,' the former Congress chief said.

In a tweet in Hindi, Priyanka Gandhi said there are many dreams for the future in the eyes of those preparing for recruitment in the armed forces such as serving the country and their parents.

'What will the new army recruitment scheme give them? After 4 years, no job guarantee, no pension facility = no rank, no pension. @narendramodi ji don't crush the dreams of the youth,' she said.

The Left parties demanded that the scheme be withdrawn and taken up in Parliament for discussion, alleging that it does 'disservice' to India's national interests.

'The Polit Bureau of the CPI-M strongly disapproves the 'Agnipath' scheme that does disservice to India's national interests. Professional armed forces cannot be raised by recruiting 'soldiers on contract' for a period of four years. This scheme, to save pension money, severely compromises the quality and efficiency of our professional armed forces,' Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury said in a tweet.

CPI general secretary D Raja tweeted, 'Finding jobs has become literally a 'Path of Fire' under Modi. Govt is trying to hoodwink the restive youth by #AgnipathScheme. It'll make our army contract based & jeopardise the future of our youth. It should be withdrawn immediately! Youth deserve proper, secure jobs!'

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also voiced displeasure over the scheme which the government insists is 'transformative'.

There was the lone voice of disapproval from the BJP -- MP Varun Gandhi -- who said the new reform will give rise to more disaffection among the youth.

IMAGE: Youngsters protest outside the Army Recruitment Office in Ranchi. Photograph: PTI Photo

In a letter to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, he said the young population has shared their questions and doubts with him about the radical changes in the recruitment process which also proposes that the 75 per cent of the recruits will retire after four years of service without pension.

However, Union minister and BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Choubey urged the youth protesting against the Agnipath scheme to stop their agitation and keep away from those inciting them, as he asserted that the initiative is in their interest and that of the armed forces and the country.

Choubey, a senior party leader from Bihar where protests started first on Wednesday, also claimed that some people are using students for their own political gains.

In a statement, he said Prime Minister Narendra Modi always thinks and works for the welfare of the youth and the nation.

"We assure you that this programme is a constructive step to bring in long-term positive results. Lakhs of youngsters will not only benefit from this but nationalistic sentiments within them will also be strengthened," Choubey said.

Urging youngsters to not get 'deceived', Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the scheme will give a 'new dimension' to their life.

'Agneepath Yojana' will give a new dimension to your life as well as give a golden base to the future. Don't be deceived. Our 'Agniveer', determined to serve Mother Bharati, will be an invaluable fund of the nation and @UPGovt will give preference to Agniveers in police and other services,' tweeted Adityanath in Hindi.

His Uttarakhand counterpart Pushkar Singh Dhami said, "Uttarakhand's association with the armed forces is well known. The history of the country's armed forces is full of the stories of the valour of soldiers from our state which is also called sainyabhoomi (the land of soldiers)."

"Almost every family in Uttarakhand has someone in the armed forces. The Agnipath yojana is a good opportunity for the youth," he told a press conference.

However, former Punjab chief minister and BJP ally Amarinder Singh struck a note of caution and suggested a rethink on the Agnipath scheme.

In a statement, he wondered why the government needed to make such 'radical changes' in the recruitment policy, which has been working 'so well for the country for so many years'.

"Hiring soldiers for four years, with effective service of three years, is not at all militarily a good idea," said Amarinder Singh, a former Army captain whose party Punjab Lok Congress is an ally of the BJP in Punjab.

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Source: PTI  -  Edited By: Hemant Waje© Copyright 2022 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.
 
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