"If the Centre does not take back the Agnipath scheme, we will be forced to take wrong steps," a student protesting in Bihar's Arrah told The Quint, adding that the Bharatiya Janata Party government was "playing a game" with them.
Fresh protests erupted in at least 10 states including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Jharkhand on Friday, 17 June, over the Defence Ministry's scheme for recruitment of youth into the Indian armed forces on a short-term, contractual basis.
After the scheme was announced by the government on 14 June, thousands of students aspiring to join the armed forces took to the streets to protest against it.
The police resorted to firing tear gas shells to quell the crowd, which stalled trains in some places and burnt them in others, apart from pelting stones and damaging public property.
But what is the reason for anger among Army aspirants over the Agnipath scheme?
The public anger comes in view of army recruitment being on a two-year standstill due to COVID-19.
After the disruption caused by COVID-19, lakhs of students were hoping that the government would start the recruitment process again as soon as possible, but it did not happen.
Instead, the government announced the contentious Agnipath scheme, leading to widespread discontentment.
The protesting aspirants' anger was further compounded by other apprehensions regarding the scheme, such as:
1. Why Four Years?
Tour of duty (TOD) implies inducting people into the armed forces for a specific period of time.
Protesting students say that all their hard work to join the army has been wasted because even if they get a job, it will only last for four years.
They say that under the short service commission in the Army, there are at least 10-12 years of service, in which soldiers are later given opportunities for internal recruitment. However, in case of the Agnipath scheme, only 25 percent of recruits will be given such an opportunity, whereas the rest will be sent packing.
There are also questions among students regarding what they will do after four years of service.
"We tried to talk to relevant officials regarding the scheme, but we were asked to leave, saying that they had no further information regarding the matter. Where should we go? Who is there to give us justice?" a protester named Deepak Kumar told The Quint.
2. What About Pension?
Protesting students believe that after their service period lapses, they would be compelled to take third or fourth-grade jobs as they would not have any professional degree or special qualifications.
A protester from Bihar's Buxar told The Quint that even pension and gratuity will not be available under this scheme.
Students have also raised apprehensions regarding where their skills and training could be put to use once they are out from the armed forces after serving for four years under the Agnipath scheme. They fear that the only alternative left to them would be to work in the private security industry.
3. What About Age Relaxation After 2 Years of No Recruitment?
Aman Pandey, a student protesting in Bihar's Arrah, said that the government should provide age relaxations as there has been no recruitment in the Army of late.
"There has been no recruitment over the last two years. Now the government is saying that recruitment will be conducted under Tour of Duty (TOD). My recruitment into the Air Force has been stalled despite my medical test being conducted in February. The merit list was supposed to come out in July 2021, but it still hasn't been released," Pandey told The Quint.
Meanwhile, Anupam, National President of Yuva Halla Bol, called for filling vacancies in the Army within nine months by implementing a 'model exam code' and giving opportunities to the youths who had lost out due to their age, adding that they were not at fault since recruitment had not been conducted for years.
4. Will Students Be Compelled To Be Private Security Guards?
At the same time, protesting aspirants also questioned if the Agnipath scheme will invariably benefit the private security industry.
The protestors asked where their skills and training will be useful after four years when they come out of the army? In such a situation, only working in the private security industry may be left for them.
5. What About the Vacancies in the Army?
Further, there are about 1.25 lakh posts vacant in the army, and the government has not recruited for 3 years.
However, this year, only 46,000 youth will be inducted into the forces under the scheme, the aspirants said.
6. Is This the End of Government Jobs?
Those aspiring for defence jobs also suspected that the government is doing away with government jobs by such impermanent contracts.
Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha said, "Youth resistance has reached Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand after Bihar. The youth, hoping for employment and jobs, cannot be misled by the hollow slogans of 'four years contract period'."
What is The Agnipath Scheme?
The scheme involves recruiting youth in the armed forces for a period of four years. People who enroll in the programme will be known as "Agniveers".
Youth between 17.5 years to 21 years of age are eligible to apply for the scheme.
After the completion of four years' service, only 25 percent of Agniveers will be appointed as permanent soldiers
The remaining employees will receive a package worth between Rs 11-12 lakh when they leave the service, but they will not be eligible for pension benefits.