Violence marks the third day of protests against 'Agnipath Scheme' as veterans explain why it is bad

Entrance and physical tests cancelled, no recruitment for the past two years and now offer of fresh recruitment for four years ( with no rank and no pension) have upset the youth. Army too not happy

IANS Photo
IANS Photo

AJ Prabal

Two days after the three service chiefs were left to unveil ‘Agnipath’, the new radical recruitment policy for the armed forces, it is clear that rural youth who join defence services as jawans are not impressed. Protests in Bihar, UP and Rajasthan have turned violent; trains and buses have been attacked and set on fire; and the youth have freely given vent to their frustration at being 'cheated’.

Briefly the scheme offers to recruit 46,000 youth every year, give them six months of training, pay them around Rs 30,000 per month and insurance before sending 75% of them back home with a sum of Rs 11 lakhs, half of it contributed and saved by themselves. They would not be eligible for pension as jawans today are after serving 15 years or so.

It takes four years for us to prepare for the recruitment, give written exams, physical tests and appear before the medical board etc., complains Sandeep Kumar from Buxur. ‘After doing all this, we will come back home after four years to an uncertain future? Does the Government think it is a joke?’ asks the agitated young man over the phone. Serving officers in the armed forces are guarded but make no secret of their reservations. At present a new recruit is put through two years of training if he joins a specialised wing but now the training period is being sought to be reduced to six months, several of them pointed out.

Violence marks the third day of protests against 'Agnipath Scheme' as veterans explain why it is bad

“With eight months of leave in four years and six months of training, the new recruit will spend 2.5 years in the service,” said another, “which does not seem to be sufficient time to mould him into a soldier”.

There are also misgivings about how the recruits, especially the 75% who will be sent home every four years, will be screened. Who will decide, and how, on who to retain and who to send out? The recruits will be insecure and on tenterhooks. There will be bad blood between those who are favoured by supervisors and the others; and most of them will be too eager to please the supervisors and do their bidding—it is a recipe for catastrophe, felt some.

Others worried about the fallout of letting loose every year 35,000 young men between the ages of 21 and 25, arms trained but with few other skills to fit back into civilian life. As Sandeep Kumar pointedly asked, “On return we will have to resume studies or prepare for other exams—those who do not join the defence services will by then be ahead of us and some of us will be above the age ceiling for most jobs”.

The critics, among them such die hard supporters of the present Government as Major General G.D. Bakshi (Rtd), worried over the fallout. “If trained & young military manpower released are not absorbed, they could join terrorists or insurgents. The fouryear contractual period militates against integration and make men ‘risk averse’,” he tweeted. Major General Yash Mor (Rtd) claims that the decision would adversely affect the economy of the rural areas, which are dependent on remittances sent by jawans. He is also cynical about job opportunities. Jawans who have spent 15 years in the army, he says, are not getting jobs. It is wishful thinking that Agniveers with four years in the armed forces will be lapped up by corporate bodies.

It is pertinent to note that the Indian Army alone had recruited 80,000 men in 2018-19 and 50,000 men in 2019-20. The average annual recruitment has been to the tune of 65,000 men as around 55,000 jawans retire every year. There are around 19 lakh defence pensioners and the Government is clearly trying to cut down on salary and pension. If the scheme is so wonderful, as the Government claims, why limit it to the armed forces and to the jawans, ask cynical veterans. Extend the scheme to officers and civil servants as well, they say.

If part-time or temporary soldiers can secure the borders, why not have part-time policemen and civil servants? Why not?

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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