NEW DELHI: As protests against the military recruitment scheme ‘Agnipath’ intensified in several parts of India, the Centre on Saturday announced a 10 per cent reservation for ‘Agniveers’, the recruits in the defence ministry jobs.
The reservation will be implemented in the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and defence civilian posts, and all the 16 defence public sector undertakings.
“This reservation would be in addition to existing reservation for ex-servicemen. Necessary amendments to relevant recruitment rules will be undertaken to implement these provisions,” as per the defence ministry.
In addition, the ministry will also advise public sector defence companies to make similar amendments to their recruitment rules. Necessary age relaxation provisions will also be made, the ministry informed.
The protests, which have been raging in different parts of the country for the last four days, have seen thousands of youths taking to the streets in cities and towns, demanding a rollback of the scheme.
Termed as “transformative”, the ‘Agnipath’ scheme provides an opportunity to the youth to serve in the armed forces for four years, a provision being vehemently opposed by protesters and Opposition parties.
To assuage the growing anger among the youth, the Central, as well as several state governments, have announced measures to accord preference to Agniveers in recruitment for police and other departments.
The Centre has relaxed the upper age limit for aspirants from 21 years to 23 years for the first year. The Union home ministry has announced a 10 per cent reservation for Agniveers in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and Assam Rifles.
States such as Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Uttarakhand which traditionally contribute a large number of youths to the armed forces are facing vehement protests.
Protesters torched several trains and private vehicles across states. They vandalised BJP offices and torched public properties in many districts of Bihar, forcing the Indian Railway to cancel or divert more than 300 trains.
In Haryana, the state government had to suspend the Internet in Mahendergarh area in an effort to curb violent protests.
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The Hill state of Uttarakhand, which sends a significant number of youths to the armed forces, also saw protesters clashing with policemen. The Pushkar Singh Dhami government has launched an investigation into clashes and subsequent violence.
While the Opposition parties have criticised the government for introducing provisions in the scheme which they termed “potentially fatal for the country”, leaders of the ruling BJP have accused the Opposition of fuelling violent protests for political gains.
Speaking to The New Indian, TMC Lok Sabha MP Sougata Roy, who is a member of the parliamentary consultative committee on defence, said: “We are against it. If such a decision is taken without consulting anyone, there will be protests.”
Roy also stated that the matter will be placed in the consultative committee for a detailed discussion.
Communist Party of India general secretary D Raja said, “We disapprove of the Union government’s move to introduce the Agnipath scheme in the name of making the army leaner and stronger. Contract appointment and short-term employment after imparting full-fledged training at the cost of the exchequer will not only affect the quality of services but also harm the future of the trained personnel.”
The CPI leader demanded a rollback of the scheme.
Former Union minister and senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid refuted BJP’s allegations that the protests are being organised by Opposition parties.
“The people for whom this scheme has been introduced seem to be unhappy. They are reacting to it. No one can say that these protests are being organised because they happened promptly and spontaneously,” Khurshid told The New Indian.
“The government’s record of introducing new schemes has always remained very shaky,” he added.
Congress has announced to hold satyagraha in solidarity with the protesters tomorrow.