Agnipath protests: Trains torched, internet services snapped as stir rocks India | Top 10 points
Protests against India's new recruitment model ‘Agnipath’ turned violent in Bihar's Chhapra where protestors set a train on fire. In Bhabhua, also located in the eastern state, protestors set a coach of a train on fire. Meanwhile, in Haryana's Palwal, police vehicles were reportedly set on fire.
Violent protests against the new 'Agnipath' recruitment scheme for the armed forces spread from Bihar to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, as well as parts of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and even national capital Delhi on Thursday. The 'Agnipath' scheme was announced on Tuesday by defence minister Rajnath Singh and the three service chiefs. Under this scheme armed forces recruits can serve for a four-year-period followed by compulsory retirement for 75 per cent - in most cases without gratuity and pension benefits. The new scheme has met with agitations from armed forces aspirants across the country, with opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal all speaking up. The government, though, has defended the new scheme, saying it was introduced after extensive consultations with serving armed forces officials over two years.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday (June 14) announced the ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme after the Union cabinet committee on security gave a green signal to it. Under the policy, Indians, including women, aged 17-and-a-half and 21, will be recruited in the armed forces for only four years with a provision to retain 25 per cent of them after the completion of the stipulated time period. Those retained will then be inducted into the regular cadre for 15 more years after another round of screening. Some veterans have criticised the scheme saying that the disadvantages will outweigh the advantages.
Here are the top 10 points in this big story:
- More than 34 trains have been cancelled and eight more partially cancelled owing to protests against the ‘Agnipath’ scheme. Railways said that as many as 72 trains were running late as well due to the ongoing agitation across India. A total of 22 trains were cancelled in the East Central Railway zone alone, news agency PTI reported.
- Quoting Haryana's Faridabad Police, ANI reported that a Section 144 has been imposed in the district in wake of the protests. Police added that forces have been deployed at every corner of Faridabad, and rioters will be “strictly” dealt with. “CCTV cameras [have been] installed at all important points. Directions given to all DCPs, ACPs, station and outpost in-charges to conduct continuous police patrolling. Appealed to the citizens not to fall prey to gossip-mongering and rumors,” police said.
- Protests have now been reported in Jammu as well where several army aspirants, who have already cleared their medical and physical tests for their recruitment in the forces last year and were awaiting the written examination, staged a stir in the region. Their written examination now stands cancelled due to the announcement of the new ‘Agnipath’ scheme.
- The stir occurred in many parts of Uttar Pradesh as well, including Meerut, Agra, Gonda, Gorakhpur (BJP leader and chief minister Yogi Adityanath's constituency), Bulandshahr and Mathura. In Bulandshahr, protestors blocked the busy GT Road, and also assembled in Khuja neighbourhood and the city area demanding witdrawala of the scheme. Some army aspirants who staged a protest in Agra pelted stones at a government bus, news agency PTI reported. Police rushed to the spot and was successful in bringing the situation under control. Some passengers trains in Uttar Pradesh were affected due to the protests.
- The agitation happened in Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh too, with visuals showing the Birlanagar railway station ransacked. Trash cans were set on fire and left on the railway tracks and the windows of some trains were broken. One video showed the station master's room ransacked as well, with people in the video claiming that protesters had broken the control system and attempts were being taken to fix it. Nearly 1,000 to 1,200 youth were part of the stir at Gwalior and Birlanagar railway stations. They threw stones at trains, and railway employees present at the spot said they somehow escaped to prevent themselves from getting hurt. Delhi-Mumbai track was completely affected owing to the ransack of the railway stations, with North Central Railways informing that as many as seven trains have been impacted so far.
- Earlier today, an angry crowd set a train ablaze at Chhapra in Bihar's Saran district. Protestors in the eastern state's Bhabhua set a coach of an intercity express on fire, and smashed the windows of the carriage. According to a video shared by news agency ANI, protestors were seen blocking tracks and burning tires on the them, while raising slogans demanding rollback of the ‘Agnipath’ scheme. Violence was reported in other regions of Bihar as well, including Gaya, Munger, Siwan, Buxar and Bhagalpur. Stone-pelting was reported from Ara railway station as protestors resorted to picketing and blocking roads across Bihar. In Jehanabad, protestors pelted stones and injured several people, including police forces who chased them away to clear the railway tracks.
- Bihar BJP MLA (Warsaliganj) Aruna Devi's vehicle was attacked by army aspirants protesting the new recruitment scheme in Nawada, and they also torched the party's office in the city. The party's Chhapra town MLC CM Gupta's house was also attacked by protestors.
- Protests also erupted in Haryana's Rewari and Palwal districts where police resorted to baton-charge and aerial firing, respectively, to disperse the crowds. In Rewari, angry armed forces aspirants gathered outside the bus stand in the district, disrupting transport services for an hour. Traffic on the Gurugram-Jaipur highway was disturbed as a result of the agitation. Meanwhile, in Palwal, internet services have been suspended for the next 24 hours starting 4pm on Thursday. The agitation was also reported in many areas of Rajasthan on Thursday after scores of defence job aspirants led by by the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) staged agitation in the state against the scheme. Rallies were taken out in Sikar, Jaipur, Ajmer, Nagaur, Jodhpur and Jhunjhuni districts, news agency PTI reported. However, ADGP (Law and Order), Hawa Singh Ghumaria said that no “untoward incident” has so far been reported from anywhere where the stir is being held.
- The Centre has defended the ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme, saying that contrary to what the protestors are thinking, the future of the policy is not insecure. South block officials said on Thursday that many avenues will open up for the ‘Agniveers’ (those inducted into the recruitment model) and they can choose to be anyone from entrepreneurs to job seekers. A defence ministry official said that such a short-term recruitment system exists in many countries and is a tried-and-tested practice for a youthful and agile army, adding that it is wrong to think 21-year-olds are immature.
- Opposition leaders have urged the Centre to listen to the demands of the armed forces aspirants. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday launched a fresh attack on the BJP-led central government over the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, saying “no respect for the army" has been shown. Samajwadi Party (SP) national president Akhilesh Yadav called the move a “careless attitude” while Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed to the Centre to give young men and women a chance to serve the country throughout their life and not just for four years. Meanwhile, left parties have called for the scrapping of the ‘Agnipath’ scheme and be taken up in Parliament for discussion, claiming it does a “disservice” to India's national interest.
(With inputs from HT Nation Bureau, and agencies)