Reforms seem unfair but help nation: Modi
Bengaluru: Some decisions and reforms might appear temporarily unpleasant but benefit the country in the long run, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday, implicitly referring to the government’s Agnipath scheme for the intake of soldiers that has resulted in protests across many parts of India, especially states such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Bihar.
The three service chiefs are likely to meet Modi on Tuesday over the four-year recruitment plan that has replaced traditional recruitment modes for defence personnel below officer rank, even as the issue reached the Supreme Court with a public interest litigation being filed on Monday.
Over the past five days, thousands of young men have burnt trains, buses and cars, torched buildings and vandalised public property to mark their opposition. Violent protests cooled this week but a bandh was observed in some areas on Monday.
“Many decisions, many reforms, in the present may seem unpleasant. But over time, the entire country experiences the benefits of it. Only the path of reforms will take us to new milestones,” the PM said during a public address in Bengaluru.
Modi is on a two-day visit to Karnataka, during which he laid the foundation stone for a much-delayed suburban rail project in Bengaluru, other public infrastructure projects, and the Bagchi Parthasarathy hospital at the Indian Institute of Science. He will take part in the International Yoga Day celebrations in Mysore on Tuesday.
The PM didn’t name the scheme or address the protestors but said: “The path of reforms alone can take us towards new targets and new resolve…we have opened up the space and defence sector which, for decades, were under government control.”
Modi has maintained silence on the protests but on Sunday said, “It is our country’s misfortune that many good things brought with good intentions get trapped in political colours. Media also gets dragged into it due to its TRP compulsions.”
On Monday, protests rocked several regions as part of a Bharat Bandh – though with lower intensity than last week, when young men burnt trains and ran riot across the heartland. In Delhi, massive traffic jams were witnessed as restrictions were in place due to the bandh and the Satyagraha protest by Congress over the Centre’s Agnipath scheme.
Indian Youth Congress workers stopped a train at the Shivaji Bridge railway station near Connaught Place. Sixteen protesters were detained and the track was cleared by security personnel after about half an hour, officials said.
Commuters from Noida and Gurugram were left hassled as they battled traffic snarls while driving into the city whereas inside the capital, Lutyens’ Delhi, which was the epicentre of protests, remained chock-a-block.
There was a heavy deployment of police at railway stations, including those in Ambala, Rewari and Sonipat in Haryana and Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar in Punjab to prevent any untoward incident, they said.
In Bihar, which is the epicentre of the stir, the shutdown call received a tepid response while there was heavy police deployment across the state. Business establishments remained open and bandh supporters were prevented by police personnel from enforcing the shutdown.
Demonstrations were staged by student bodies at various places in protest against the new scheme. None of these protests, however, turned violent.
In the south, left student bodies held protests in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. In Telangana, the TRS and Left parties held protests.
On an average, the Railways department has been cancelling 450 trains in a day for the last three days. The Railways on Monday said it cancelled 587 trains due to the protests. The worst-affected zone remained the Eastern Central Railway which is headquartered at Bihar’s Hajipur and comprises Sonpur, Samastipur, Danapur, Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, and Dhanbad divisions.
Last week, the government announced the Agnipath scheme for induction of personnel between 17.5 and 21 years for a four-year period. In the new policy, only a quarter of the initial intake will eventually be absorbed into the forces and allowed to serve for an additional 15 years after a second round of screening. The government argues that the scheme will boost intake to 46,000 a year and has reserved 10% jobs in defence and paramilitary jobs, in addition to educational and financial incentives.
Several corporate houses have also come forward to say that they will hire Agniveers on priority. Industry leaders, including Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra, RPG Enterprises chairman Harsh Goenka and Biocon chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw came out in support of the scheme, saying it has large potential for employment of youth in the corporate sector. “Large potential for employment of agniveers in the corporate sector. With leadership, teamwork & physical training, agniveers provide market-ready professional solutions to industry,” Mahindra said.
But protesters are angry about the length of service, no pension provisions for those released early, and the fact that the age limit to 21 rules out many aspirants. The government tried to assuage this concern with the one-time relaxation in the upper-age limit to 23 and has also ruled out any rollback of the scheme. Various government departments have also announced reservations for soldiers who do not get absorbed after four years.
The petition filed in the Supreme Court by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma is the second challenging the scheme introduced by the Centre. Advocate Vishal Tiwari filed a petition last week seeking a committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to examine the impact of the said scheme on national security and the armed forces and a probe into the violence across several states in protest of the scheme.
The petition by Sharma said, “Contrary to the constitutional provisions and without having approval in the Parliament and without any Gazette notification, the respondent (Centre) quashed century-old army selection process and imposed impugned Agniveer-22 scheme in the country, “Agni Path scheme” for recruitment in the armed forces division and declared to start it from June 24.”
(With agency inputs)