Published: 17th June 2022
#WhatTheFAQ: Why are youngsters, students across India resorting to arson over Agnipath scheme?
The Agnipath scheme was being deliberated on by officials in the Indian Armed Forces for over two years. But when it was finally rolled out, it is suffering vehement opposition. Here's why
It’s unfortunately happening! A day after it was launched by the Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, the Agnipath scheme is seeing severe backlashes. Massive protests have erupted in various places across India. The youth have even resorted to halting and burning trains! This is happening after several top officials of the Armed Forces appraised the scheme and spoke highly of it, opining that it would benefit the youth immensely and make better citizens of them.
What went wrong then? Why are Indian youngsters not pleased with the government’s programme? That’s what we look at in today’s #WhatTheFAQ
What is the Agnipath scheme?
The Union Cabinet on June 14 gave approval to the Agnipath scheme, meant to recruit youth from across India in all the three wings of the Indian Armed Forces, namely the Army, Navy and Air Force. Under this scheme, youngsters will serve in the regular cadres and will be hired for four years, including six months of training. Soldiers recruited under this Agnipath model will be known as 'Agniveers'. Apart from a one-time SevaNidhi package of Rs 11.71 lakh, there will be no pension, health or education benefits.
The scheme has been introduced in order to cut the ballooning salary and pension bills, along with maintaining a youthful profile of the Indian Armed Forces. It is set to be rolled out within the coming 90 days. The officials have stated that 46,000 Agniveers stand to be hired under it.
What are the other specialities?
It was informed that Agniveers would also be hired from the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), National Skills Qualifications Framework and polytechnics among other institutions, as a part of the Skill India initiative launched by the Centre earlier. A day later, the Ministry of Education (MoE) announced that a special three-year skill-based Bachelor's degree programme for Agniveers, which will recognise the skill training received by them during their tenure in Armed Forces, will be launched. The programme would be recognised both in India and abroad for employment and education and would be offered by the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
Based on their merit, willingness and medical fitness, 25% of the Agniveers will be retained in the regular cadre after the completion of four years. They will then serve for a full term of another 15 years. The other 75% of Agniveers will be demobilised.
The salary package for the 1st year is Rs 4.76 lakh with upgradation of up to Rs 6.92 lakh in the fourth year. Moreover, the SevaNidhi package is of Rs 11-12 lakh approximately for those released from the services, which is tax-free. The Agniveers would also get a non-contributory insurance cover of Rs 48 lakh. Additionally, they would receive an Agniveer skill certificate and bank loans which would assist in post-release job opportunities.
The enrollment will be on an 'All India All Class' basis, with eligible ages ranging from 17.5 to 23 years. All the men and women with a minimum qualification of Class X are eligible to apply for this scheme.
Why the protests then?
It has been reported that the aspirants are unhappy with the length of service. They are also displeased that there is no pension or gratuity provision for those who will be released early from the services. The students are also worried about their future after they are released from the services as they will have to move back to civilian life.
And the major issue is the age group designated for the Agniveers, which was 17.5 to 21. This age restriction renders many of the aspirants from across the country ineligible. Though the upper age limit was extended to 23 years on the night of June 16 by the Centre after the backlashes, the Agniveer aspirants are still taking to the streets.
The people are also dissatisfied with the amount of time allotted to the training under this scheme, which is six months. Defence analysts have stated that it takes two to three years to train a member of the army. They allegedly pointed out that Russian soldiers who were trained for a limited amount of time before they went to war have performed disastrously. With India facing threats from both Pakistan and China, the country cannot afford to not train the different units of its army properly, stated a report in Times Now.
It is not only the students though. Some military veterans and opposition leaders have also raised objections. They say that the new scheme can potentially affect the future of serving personnel, hit professionalism, ethos and fighting spirit of the forces and possibly lead to militarisation of civil society.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra attacked the government over the scheme, saying that amending rules under the scheme soon after its announcement indicated that it was imposed on the youth in "haste". She demanded its immediate withdrawal.
The protesters blocked roads and damaged public properties in several states, including Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Uttarakhand. A BJP MLA was subject to stone-pelting in Bihar. Police vehicles were damaged in both UP and Bihar. Buses and trains were set on fire in these states.
On June 17, the protests entered the third consecutive day. Students intensified the protests. Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi’s house was also attacked. The Secunderabad Railway Station has been vandalised and trains have been set on fire by agitators. Various student unions in Delhi have also started a protest against the scheme. The Aam Admi Party student wing, All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) were seen protesting at the metro station in Central Delhi. The students were detained by the police.
What are the students demanding?
While some groups of aspirants are demanding that the age limit be increased, others are asking the government to ensure a hassle-free life for the recruits post release. The upper age limit was changed to 23 years, but it still is not enough and many remain ineligible. A student in a Twitter video was seen declaring that he has already been preparing to get into the Indian army and has been inducted into the NCC for the purpose since three years. As such, the age limit makes him ineligible. The age limit has also been increased only for the first year, as a one-time relaxation.
Some student groups are also demanding for the scheme to be rolled back. “Agnipath is nothing but a design to destroy permanent jobs in army and introduce massive casualisation of army jawans,” stated a press release by AISA. It also claims that the scheme, “begins to destroy right to dignified work condition, permanency of jobs, right to pension for Indian Army Jawans, who literally work in most difficult situations”.