Monday June 20, 2022

Army sticks to recruitment plan despite rallies

Army sticks to recruitment plan despite rallies

Demonstrators shout slogans from a police vehicle after being detained during a protest against "Agnipath" scheme for recruiting personnel in the armed forces, in Kolkata, India. Reuters

Undeterred by nationwide protests, accompanied by arson and vandalism in some states, India’s armed forces have decided to go ahead with the Narendra Modi regime’s new recruitment policy.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced the policy earlier this month after discussions with the chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

The announcement led to sporadic protests. Even as they appeared to be dying down, last week those looking out for military jobs began a fresh round of protests which quickly spread to at least 11 states. The affected states included Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab, which are among the largest recruitment grounds of the military.

In Bihar, protesters vandalised railway stations and set fire to trains. This forced the authorities to suspend train services for long periods during the weekend.

Railway property came under attack at Ludhiana in Punjab too.

Some student groups ran a social media campaign calling for national work-stoppage on Monday. However, it did not evoke much response. Reports said several states had issued orders prohibiting meetings and suspended train services and Internet communications as precautionary measures. Jharkhand state ordered closure of schools.

The Service chiefs said the new recruitment scheme, known as Agnipath (Path of Fire), would stay, and set dates for its implementation.

They said those who were involved in violent protests would be disqualified.

To allay the fears of job aspirants that the new policy would limit their opportunities, the government persuaded many departments to reserve 10 per cent of the jobs in various services to Agnipath recruits, who will be known as Agniveers (Heroes of Fire).

Several countries are now going through a process of making the armed forces leaner but technologically superior. Material in the public realm does not indicate that Agnipath was conceived in such a context.

Earlier, soldiers were recruited to serve in the armed forces for15 years. After that they were entitled to lifelong pension. Also, the army helped them to find other jobs. From 2019, there was no recruitment to the armed forces due to COVID-19. However, soldiers continued to retire as usual.

The big gap in recruitment and the aspirants’ apprehensions about the new scheme may have triggered the protests.

 The Agnipath scheme covers both male and female candidates, aged between 17 ½ and 21 years, who wish to join military services.

Following the spate of protests, the Centre raised the upper age limited candidates to 23 years.

Recruitment under Agnipath is to be made twice a year for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

Recruitment under this scheme is only for posts below the officer cadre. The successful candidates will serve for a period of just four years, including the six-month training period.

At the time of retirement, the Agniveer can apply to continue in the armed forces. At that stage up to 25 per cent of the Agniveers may be selected for the permanent cadre.

Those who leave after four years of service will not be eligible for pension. However, they will be entitled to a lump sum payment of about Rs.11,71,000.

The government has not been able to explain how the new scheme is more beneficial to either the services or to services personnel than the earlier one.

So far as is known, the government did not discuss details of the scheme with representative groups before announcing it. Also, Parliament was not given an opportunity to discuss.

The piecemeal measures now being taken indicates the government had taken several decisions without adequate forethought.

Although the protests were triggered by military job aspirants, and not by opposition parties, houses of some Bharatiya Janata Party leaders came under attack in Bihar.

Following this, the Centre provided high security cover to 10 BJP MLAs of the state.

Some opposition parties have called for abandonment of the Agnipath scheme. But it is not clear whether they would want to make it an issue in the 2024 elections.

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