India calls off hundreds of trains as more protests loom over controversial recruitment policy

Published June 20, 2022
Activists from Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) shout slogans and burn placards with pictures of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a protest against the government's new 'Agnipath' recruitment scheme for the army, navy, and air forces, in Chennai on Monday. — AFP
Activists from Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) shout slogans and burn placards with pictures of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a protest against the government's new 'Agnipath' recruitment scheme for the army, navy, and air forces, in Chennai on Monday. — AFP

Authorities in India cancelled more than 500 trains services on Monday because of calls for protests by young men angry with a military recruitment plan that they say will rob them of the opportunity of a career in the armed forces.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government last week unveiled the plan called Agnipath, or “path of fire”, aimed at bringing more people into the military on short, four-year contracts to lower the average age of India's 1.38 million-strong armed forces.

Analysts say the scheme will also help cut burgeoning pension costs.

But the protesters say it will deprive them of the opportunity of a permanent job in the military, and with it a guaranteed pension, other allowances and social status.

Police detain activists from Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) during a protest against the government's new 'Agnipath' recruitment scheme for the army, navy, and air forces, in Chennai on Monday. — AFP
Police detain activists from Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) during a protest against the government's new 'Agnipath' recruitment scheme for the army, navy, and air forces, in Chennai on Monday. — AFP

Top defence officials said on Sunday the plan was aimed at modernising the forces and would not be withdrawn despite protests by many thousands of young men who have attacked and torched trains and clashed with police since last week.

One person has been killed and police have arrested more than 300 protesters.

The railway ministry said in statement more than 500 trains had been called off on Monday in view of calls for protest strikes.

In the eastern city of Kolkata, a protester held a placard with the message “Boycott Agnipath” and demanded the plan be scrapped.

“I want the defence ministry to stop this experiment. I need a secure job and they have no right to offer temporary arrangements,” the young man told a television news channel.

Under the scheme, 46,000 cadets will be recruited this year on four-year terms and 25 per cent of them will be kept on after the four years. Hiring starts this month.

In a bid to end the protests, the government has adjusted parts of the plan to offer more soldiers federal and state government jobs after their service.

One policy analyst said a key part of the plan was aimed at reducing government expenditure on pensions.

“The Agnipath scheme will reduce the lifetime cost of manpower by several crore (tens of millions) rupees per head,” Nitin Pai, director of the Takshashila Institution centre for research on public policy, wrote in the Mint newspaper.

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