Agnipath soldier recruitment scheme sets parts of India aflame
- Agnipath is the Indian government’s new soldier recruitment scheme
- Protests have broken out in Bihar and Rajasthan over the new scheme
- The scheme reduces tour of duty and removes pension benefits for many
The Agnipath scheme, Indian government’s new policy to recruit soldiers, has triggered protests in various parts of the country. The billion-strong nation has been facing a burgeoning unemployment crisis and many in the young nation struggle for years to score government jobs. Jobs in the Indian defence forces – army, air force and navy, are among the most sought after. A change in the policy of recruitment puts lakhs of people who have been preparing to gain entry into the services in a quandary, according to protestors.
Bihar, one of India’s most impoverished and populous states, has been at the forefront of protests. Aspirants of Indian defence services jobs have set a train on fire and law enforcement officials have attempted to counter protests shelling tear gas and wielding batons.
In Bihar’s Jehanabad town, aspirants pelted stones injuring several people, including law enforcement officials. Police in turn chased the protestors in an attempt to clear railway tracks for trains to pass. Similar scenes were seen in Bihar’s Arrah where police resorted to tear gas shelling at stone pelters. Visuals reported by NDTV show railway officials trying to douse a flame lit by protestors. Protests have also broken out in the western state of Rajasthan.
The Indian government’s Agnipath scheme, according to which, youths between ages of 17.5 to 21 will be recruited into the Armed Forces for a period of four years has not gone down well with aspirants. The primary point of contention is the compulsory retirement policy that is part of the scheme.
At the end of four years, the Armed Forces will recruit 25% of soldiers who were part of the tour of duty. The remaining three-fourth candidates will retire with a lumpsum pay of Rs 11-12 lakh. During the four-year period, soldiers will receive pay between Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000. They will not be entitled to any pension benefits.
“We work hard to get inducted into the Armed Forces. How will the service be for four years, with months of training and leaves? How will we protect the nation after being trained for just three years? Government has to take back this scheme,” a protestor told India Today.
The government’s reasoning to bring in this scheme is two-fold. The first, the government wants to conduct a massive recruitment drive over the next one and half years. The second is that the Agnipath scheme will significantly reduce government expenditure on pensions and benefits for members of the Armed Forces. Nearly 45,000 people are set to be recruited under the scheme.
The Agnipath policy of recruitment is a major break from the existing policy the Indian government has to recruit soldiers. The old system hires youngsters between the ages of 16.5 and 21 for a minimum period of 15 years and has the provision for a pension at the end of service.
Many within and outside the defence establishment have criticised the government’s new policy. They say a four-year term will affect morale of soldiers fighting for the nation. Some have also come up with suggestions for tweaks in the policy.
Major General BS Dhanoa (retired) tweeted: “Two serious recommendations to the just-announced recruitment policy for the armed forces; a. Increase the service period of new recruits to a minimum of seven years b. Make the retention of those keen to serve longer at least 50%.”