Sat. Oct 1st, 2022

Protests over Agnipath, a radical recruiting scheme for the armed services, got violent today in various districts of Bihar, when Army hopefuls stopped train and road traffic for the second day in a row. Trains were set on fire, rail and road traffic was stopped, bus window glass were damaged, and pedestrians, including a governing BJP MLA, were stoned by furious youngsters asking that the new short-term employment plan be scrapped. Violent protests have now expanded throughout the country to various states. Violent protests have also been reported in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Following stone-pelting and rioting by Army hopefuls, phone internet and SMS services in Haryana’s Palwal district have been banned for 24 hours. After a mob stormed and set fire to their cars, police were forced to use overhead fire.

East Central Railway reported that 22 trains from Bihar had to be cancelled and five had to stop after completing partial trips due to protests and damage at major railway stations.

Protesters carrying batons damaged the glass windows of an intercity express train at Bihar’s Bhabhua Road railway station, setting one carriage on fire. They yelled shouts opposing the new recruiting method while holding a banner that said “Indian Army Lovers.”

In Nawada, the vehicle of BJP MLA Aruna Devi, who was on her way to court, was attacked by agitators who threw stones at her car, injuring five people, including the legislator. The Nawada BJP office was also vandalised.

“The demonstrators appeared to have been triggered by the sight of my car’s party banner, which they tore. “My driver, two security guards, and two personal staff members have been injured,” the MLA said, adding that she was “too terrified” to speak to media “to have filed a police complaint Police had to use tear gas shells to disperse a large throng of demonstrators who threw stones at the police at the Arrah train station.

Images showed train workers using fire extinguishers to put out a fire started by demonstrators who threw furniture on the lines and lit it ablaze.
In Jehanabad, students flung stones at police officers, who forced them away to clear the railway lines where they had tented in order to impede train traffic. The police and protesting students pelted stones at each other in dramatic footage from the railway station. Cops also aimed their firearms at the demonstrators in an attempt to intimidate them away.

In Nawada, gangs of young men set fire to tyres at a public crossing and chanted anti-tour of duty slogans. They also burned tyres on the track and stopped the train rails at Nawada station.

Images from the scene show a large throng destroying railway property and yelling expletives at PM Modi. Many people can be seen doing pushups on the train rails while cops use a portable public address system to call for calm.

The tour of duty system, Agnipath, proposes hiring jawans on a contractual basis for a four-year period, followed by mandatory retirement for most without gratuity or pension benefits. The new recruitment strategy attempts to reduce the government’s large wage and pension costs while also freeing up cash for armaments acquisition. Students came to the train station in Saharsa and threw stones as police attempted to drive them away to prevent rail traffic disturbance.

In Chapra, violent mobs were spotted brandishing hefty wooden clubs and damaging state highway buses in protest.

Protests have also been reported in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Protests erupted yesterday in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and Buxar, with protestors wondering what they would do after four years. Under the Agnipath initiative, around 45,000 people between the ages of 17.5 and 21 will be admitted into the services for a four-year period. During this time, they would be given a monthly salary of Rs 30,000-40,000 with allowances. They will also be eligible to medical and insurance coverage.

Only 25% of these troops will be retained after four years, and they will serve for a total of 15 years in non-officer ranks. The remaining will be paid between Rs 11 lakh and Rs 12 lakh to leave the service, but will not be eligible for pension benefits.

Youths between the ages of 16.5 and 21 were recruited for a minimum of 15 years of service and received a pension upon retirement under the previous system.

The new policy has generated criticism and inquiries from a variety of sources, including a group of veterans. Critics have claimed that a four-year term will sap combat spirit and make soldiers risk-averse.

Among the veterans, Major General BS Dhanoa (retired) tweeted, “Two significant recommendations to the recently announced armed forces recruiting policy: a. Increase the service duration of new recruits to a minimum of seven years; b. Make retention of those keen to serve longer at least 50%.”

By adele rose

Adele Rose is the senior editor and employee of WGBS Pvt Ltd Digital wing.

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