After violent protests demanding a rollback erupted in several regions on Thursday, the Centre announced a two-year relaxation in the scheme’s upper age restriction this year, citing the lack of recruitment in the services “during the last two years.”
Following a day in which large groups of teenagers blocked highways, pelted stones, set fire to train carriages, and targeted BJP offices and officials, the Defense Ministry announced that individuals who were 21 years old in 2020, when recruitment was halted, would be eligible — but only for this year.
Only applicants aged 17 and a half to 21 are eligible for recruitment under the initial scheme, which was unveiled on Tuesday. The Defence Ministry, on the other hand, announced on Thursday that “the upper age limit for the recruiting process for the Agnipath scheme for 2022 has been increased to 23 years.”
Because “it has not been possible to execute the recruitment during the last two years,” the Ministry said, “the Government has decided to give a one-time waiver for the projected recruitment cycle for 2022.”
Previously, the most violent protests took place in Bihar, where the government alliance includes the JD(U) and the BJP. Job seekers in Kaimur set fire to one of a stopped train’s coaches. Two more coaches were set ablaze by demonstrators, one at the Sidhwalia station in Gopalganj, where passengers had to flee for their lives, and the other in Chhapra. There were no injuries recorded.
Sanjay Singh, the Bihar ADGP (law and order), confirmed the damage, saying the police have “arrested 125 persons for the violent protests.” Because of the agitation, 34 trains were fully cancelled and eight were partially cancelled, with 72 trains either held at stations or operating late, according to the railways.
Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu, and a railway station in Delhi all saw heated protests. Officials claimed peaceful protests took place in Ranchi, Jharkhand, and Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand.
Protests reverberated in the political realm as well.
Rajiv Ranjan Singh, the national president of the JD(U), has urged a review of the Agnipath scheme. “There has been an aura of unhappiness, disappointment, and dread of a dark future due of unemployment since the launch of the Agnipath project,” he tweeted in Hindi. Because the Agnipath project is linked to the country’s safety and security, the Centre should reconsider it quickly.”
“Now that students are protesting, the Centre needs to find a way out and see if it failed to convey the Agnipath initiative to the youth,” JD(U) national spokesperson K C Tyagi told The Indian Express. However, we do not condone the type of protest that has resulted in significant property destruction.”
Bijendra Prasad Yadav, a senior JD(U) leader and Bihar Minister, has urged the Centre to “speak to student leaders.”
The opposition parties accused the government of “ignoring the problems of unemployed youth,” particularly in rural areas, and of “disrespecting” the Armed Forces.
At least ten districts in Bihar have reported disturbance, including Ara, Kaimur, Siwan, Munger, Saharsa, and Bhagalpur. Officials said demonstrators pelted stones at BJP offices in Nawada and Madhubani, as well as BJP MLA Aruna Devi’s vehicle in Warisaliganj and BJP MLA C N Gupta’s home in Chhapra.
Protesters gheraoed the Deputy Commissioner’s office near Agra Chowk in Palwal, Haryana, injuring around 20 police and government workers and setting fire to five official vehicles. To disperse the throng, police fired shots into the air and used tear gas rounds.
Later, the Haryana government issued prohibitory orders in the area and ordered the temporary suspension of Internet services in Palwal “to prevent the propagation of misinformation and rumours.”
“Anti-social elements infiltrated the agitation and began pelting stones, resulting in a law and order issue.” They also attempted to vandalise the (DC’s) office and stole ammunition from the officers stationed there, according to the police.
Protests were recorded in other parts of the state, including Rewari and Gurgaon, where traffic was halted near Bilaspur Chowk on the Jaipur route.
In Rohtak, a 23-year-old youth from Jind’s Lijwana village committed suicide by hanging himself inside his room at a paid guest lodging, claiming that he was preparing for military induction and was dissatisfied by the new policy.
The Central Government launched Agnipath on Tuesday, under which the majority of troops will leave duty in just four years – 45,000 to 50,000 hopefuls will be recruited annually, but just 25% will be allowed to continue under permanent commission for another 15 years.
The government announced a slew of benefits for people who will be laid off early on Wednesday, including priority recruitment for the Central Armed Police Forces, Assam Rifles, and various state police forces.
“For adolescents from the villages and their families, a position in the Armed Forces is the only way to a safe future.” Who wants to take a four-year job with a bleak outlook? “This is painful for unemployed youth who have spent most of their life preparing for a chance in the Armed Forces,” said Aman Sah, a student from Bhagalpur, Bihar, who participated in the protests.
“In Bihar, almost every community sends at least one young man to the Armed Forces every year.” “The short-term Agnipath initiative has come as a complete shock to them,” said S K Jha, who runs popular job-seeking coaching programmes in Bihar.
According to Jha, an estimated 2.5-3 lakh students from the state take part in Armed Forces recruitment tests.
In Jammu, police used a lathicharge to disperse a big crowd outside the Army’s recruitment office on B C Road, which was protesting the cancellation of their written recruitment test after the implementation of Agnipath. The demonstrators also blocked the popular Tawi bridge in the morning, causing traffic congestion for about an hour.
“In 2019, we applied for recruiting and passed physical and medical examinations. The written test was cancelled several times for various reasons, including Covid. “It was eventually set for Thursday,” a protester who did not want to be recognised claimed.
Protests were also seen in a few districts across Uttar Pradesh, primarily in Bulandshahr and Agra. While a highway in Agra was shut, demonstrators packed the important GT Road in Bulandshahr, shouting anti-government chants. According to senior police authorities, no arrests were made in connection with the protests.
Job seekers and workers from the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) held rallies in Jaipur, Nagaur, Ajmer, Dholpur, Bhilwara, Sikar, and Jodhpur, among other districts, with police using moderate lathicharge to disperse the crowds in some areas.
Protesters blocked the train track at Nangloi station in outside Delhi, shouting anti-government chants. “About 15-20 guys had assembled at the train station and were protesting against the Agnipath proposal,” said Sameer Sharma, DCP (Outer). They were on the tracks when one train came to a halt. “They were scattered.”
Around 50 protestors gathered outside the train station and on the Main Road overbridge area in Ranchi, officials said, seeking a reversal of the policy. In Pithoragarh, a group of young people organised a “peaceful protest” and filed a memorandum to the collectorate against Agnipath.