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Agnipath scheme: Protests reach Bengal, Left demands withdrawal

Aspirants feel they were cheated since now they can only join through the Agnipath scheme as regular recruitment rallies are being done away with.

SNS | Kolkata |

Agitations surrounding the Agnipath scheme today rocked several districts of the state with protestors burning tyres and blocking roads, demanding the scheme be scrapped. The CPM state unit too demanded scrapping and compared the scheme with the recruitment of civic volunteers in Bengal.

The scheme has stirred protests in about 12 states in the country and has gained momentum as protests today reached Bengal, throwing daily life out of gear in Kolkata, North 24-Parganas, Malda and others. Stones were pelted at vehicles at Bhatpara in North 24-Parganas while protests were staged at Howrah Bridge, apart from disruption in train services from Howrah station, and in the Sealdah-Bangaon line as agitations broke out at the Thakurnagar Railway station. There were reported instances of the agitators seen pelting stones towards public vehicles following which the glass window-shields were smashed. While agitating they were carrying the national Tricolour.

Another group of agitators started marching towards the ancestral residence of the BJP Lok Sabha member from Bangaon and the Union minister of state for ports, shipping and waterways, Shantanu Thakur at Thakurnagar. They were shouting slogans and holding posters demanding scrapping of the Agnipath scheme.

Protestors alleged that the scheme deprives them of the social security benefits that are extended to regular army personnel. They feel that the Seva Nidhi package that guarantees a tax-free one-time payment of Rs 11.71 lakhs after the completion of their four-year term is inadequate and unfair since they will be taking the same risks as the regular soldiers in the Indian armed forces.

Most agitators demanded to know why they are being deprived of a proper pension package. Many of them had been preparing for over a year, looking forward to joining the Indian armed forces. These aspirants feel they were cheated since now they can only join through the Agnipath scheme as regular recruitment rallies are being done away with.

Protestors alleged that such a contractual method of short-term recruitment insults the sacrifices of soldiers, who protect the country by putting their own lives at stake. Protestors demanded that the central government withdraw the scheme and resume recruitment in their regular process where one serves for a minimum period of 15 years.

The CPM has demanded that the Centre immediately withdraw the scheme as this paves the way for the creation of contractual soldiers, making them appear as mercenaries instead of soldiers of the Indian armed forces. The CPM central committee member, Sujan Chakraborty said that this method of recruitment is akin to how civic volunteers were recruited by the Mamata Banerjee government to substitute regular police personnel.

He alleged that the central government, in a bid to fulfill its promise of generating employment for lakhs of youth, is actually putting the future of these young people in jeopardy through such fixed-term employment that robs any form of job security and stability.

Trinamool Congress state general secretary and the party spokesman, Kunal Ghosh said that the Union government and BJP are trying to make a joke of the rich heritage of the Indian armed forces. “Protests are bound to recur over such absurd proposals,” he said.

BJP’s national vice-president and party MP Dilip Ghosh said that it is a matter of enquiry whether the agitations are really conducted by ordinary job-seekers or by goons enjoying political patronage.