New Delhi/Lucknow/Mumbai- With the government standing its ground on the contentious ‘Agnipath’ scheme for short-term recruitment in the armed forces, the three services of the military on Sunday came out with a broad schedule of enrolment under the new policy and warned those who indulged in violence and arson will not be inducted.
There was a comparative lull after the stormy protests which rocked several states during the past four days including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Telangana, while peaceful agitations were held in several places.
However, the Indian Railway, which endured the brunt of the violence, cancelled 483 train on Sunday due to protests.
As many as 35 WhatsApp groups that were allegedly spreading fake news about the scheme were banned by the government, officials said.
In a stern warning to those indulging in destructive protests over the scheme, Lt Gen Anil Puri, additional secretary in the Department of Military Affairs, said youths who were involved in arson and violence will not be able to join the three services as a police verification process will be carried out before enrolling anyone.
He also said the aspirants will have to pledge they were not part of protests or incidents of arson.
Meanwhile, stepping up its attack on the Centre, the Congress held a ‘Satyagraha’ in the national capital in support of those protesting the scheme, with party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra urging the youth to recognise “fake nationalists” and ensure that a new government is formed in the country which shows “real patriotism”.
“There is no space for indiscipline in the armed forces. There is no space for arson and violence. All those who want to become a part of the armed forces under the Agnipath scheme will have to give a certificate that they were not part of any arson,” Puri told a press conference addressed by top military officials.
Responding to a question on whether the government proposed to review or roll back the scheme because of the protests, Lt Gen Puri shot back, “No, why should there be a rollback?”
The tri-services media briefing at the Defence Ministry took place hours after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held a meeting with the chiefs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force on Sunday for the second straight day.
Lt Gen Puri said the major reform in the armed forces to bring down the age profile was introduced after years of deliberations and studying the recruitment process and tenure of soldiers in several countries.
He added that even a high-level committee on the 1999 Kargil War had made suggestions on it.
Giving details of the Navy’s plan to induct ‘Agniveers’, Vice Admiral (Personnel) Dinesh Tripathi said the naval headquarters will come out with a broad guideline for the recruitment by June 25.
The first batch of recruits will join the training programme on INS Chilka in Odisha by November 21, he said, adding the Navy is recruiting both men and women as ‘Agniveers’ under the scheme.
About the Indian Air Force’s plan for induction under the Agnipath scheme, Air Marshall S K Jha said the registration process will start on June 24 and the process for online examination for phase one of the recruitment process will begin on July 24.
“We are planning to start the training for the first batch of recruits by December 30,” Air Marshall Jha said.
About the Army’s recruitment plan, Lt Gen Bansi Ponappa said the Army will issue a draft notification on Monday and subsequent notifications will be issued by various recruitment units of the force from July 1 onwards.
Recruitment rallies under the Agnipath scheme will take place across India in August, September and October, he said.
Lt Gen Ponappa said the first batch comprising 25,000 personnel will join the training programme in the first and second week of December. The second lot of recruits will join their training around February 23.
He said a total of 83 recruitment rallies will be organised across the country to select around 40,000 personnel.
Referring to the provision of exit of 75 per cent of the ‘Agniveers’ after a four-year tenure, Lt Gen Puri said around 17,600 personnel take premature retirement annually from the three services.
“It is not that exit will take place only under Agnipath scheme,” he said.
Addressing the Congress ‘Satyagraha’, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra alleged the new military recruitment scheme would be destructive for the youth as also the defence forces.
Several top Congress leaders, including AICC general secretary organisation K C Venugopal, the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha Adir Ranjan Chowdhury, Harish Rawat, Communications department head Jairam Ramesh, Salman Khurshid, Sachin Pilot, Deepender Hooda and Ajay Maken participated in the ‘Satyagraha’ held at Jantar Mantar.
“There is no bigger patriot than you. I want to tell you, open your eyes and recognise the fake nationalists and fake patriots. The entire country and the Congress are with you in your struggle,” she said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has maintained silence on the violent protests, suggestively 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.” He, however, made no direct reference to the agitation against ‘Agnipath’.
Modi was speaking after inaugurating the main tunnel and five underpasses of the Pragati Maidan Integrated Transit Corridor in the national capital.
The Uttar Pradesh police, meanwhile arrested nine people and detained many in Saharanpur, Bhadohi and Deoria districts for their alleged involvement in violent agitations and for instigating the youth, officials said.
In Bhadohi, police baton-charged protesters and arrested four people.
In Deoria, protesters threw stones and vandalised a gas filling station on the Paina road. The filling station salesman has accused the protesters of looting cash. Shopkeepers at Chowk and Paina Road closed their shops out of fear and people who came to the market returned home.
At least 14 people were detained in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad city after they assembled without permission to protest, police said.
The states which had witnessed large-scale violence and arson, remained largely peaceful.
Union minister Jitendra Singh denounced the “deliberate attempts”to create confusion against a fabulous and far-sighted scheme.
Agnipath will provide the youth an opportunity to get employed and also serve the nation. However, a deliberate attempt is being made to create confusion that the scheme will ruin the previous arrangement of recruitment in the armed forces, Singh, the minister of state in the prime minister’s office, told PTI in Jammu.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav asked whether Agnipath was a MGNREGA-like initiative for the educated youth or there was a “hidden agenda” of the RSS behind it.
Yadav rejected allegations about his party instigating violence in Bihar and appealed to the youth to agitate peacefully.
“Why is Prime Minister Narendra Modi silent on the whole issue?” he asked.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath defended the novel recruitment policy.
“The entire world has welcomed the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, while the opposition parties owing to their nature of playing with the life of the youth, have misguided them. We will give priority to the Agniveers in UP Police and other services. These youths will be gift for us, who would have the training, discipline and a feeling (of patriotism) towards the country during adverse time,” he said in Lucknow.
BSP chief Mayawati, however, claimed it has left the youth “disappointed” and “desperate”.
Addressing a rally in support of Independent candidate Dev Kumar Dhan for the Mandar by-election in Jharkhand, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi accused the government of playing with national security.
“The Modi government destroyed the country’s economy in the last eight years. At present, unemployment is a big issue in the country, which as per my calculation is around 16-17 per cent. Now, he is playing with national security by introducing the Agnipath scheme,” he alleged.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray also hit out at the Centre.
Addressing Shiv Sena MLAs and senior leaders on the party’s 56th foundation day, Thackeray said if the youth do not have jobs, there is no use of speaking about Lord Ram.
“Why give names like ‘Agniveer’ and ‘Agnipath’ to schemes which have no meaning? What will the youth aged 17 to 21 years get after four years? he asked.
“Having soldiers on contract is dangerous, and playing with the ambitions and lives of youth is wrong. There is no use only speaking about Lord Ram, if the youth do not have jobs,” he said.
The Centre on Saturday announced several placatory incentives including 10 per cent reservation in vacancies in the defence ministry and paramilitary forces for Agnipath retirees as it tried to defuse the violent protests that raged on against the new military recruitment scheme in many states and the opposition parties stepped up pressure for a roll back.
The Union home ministry has also decided to give 3 years age relaxation beyond the prescribed upper age limit to Agniveers for recruitment in CAPFs and Assam Rifles.
A 10 per cent reservation will be implemented in the Indian Coast Guard and defence civilian posts, and all the 16 Defence Public Sector Undertakings, according to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s office.
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