Despite rising joblessness, Indians are protesting against Modi’s new military jobs scheme

India’s unemployed youth are unhappy with the Narendra Modi government’s new military jobs scheme. Agnipath (fire path), announced by defence minister Rajnath Singh on June 14, is set to recruit 46,000 soldiers over the next 90 days. It will enable youth between 17.5 and 21 years of age to join the armed forces for a period of four years.

But protests have now broken out — some violent — in various parts of India. Angry crowds today blocked railway tracks, set tyres ablaze, and scuffled with the police in Jehanabad, Nawada, and Chapra in the state of Bihar, according to NDTV. A compartment of a passenger train was also set on fire by angry protestors.

Agnipath was announced mere hours after Modi himself promised to create a million new jobs over the next 1.5 years. He did not specify the skill level or the nature of these jobs.

These big plans have been announced amid rising unemployment in India

Facing protests that have now spread even to states where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is in power, the Indian government has tried to justify the scheme. “The scheme will bring in new dynamism to the armed forces. It will help the forces bring in new capabilities and take advantage of the technical skills and fresh thinking of the youths… It will allow the youths to serve the nation,” the government’s Press Information Bureau (PIB) said in a Facebook post, according to The Economic Times newspaper.

The ministry of home affairs has also released a “myth vs fact” document to this end, ThePrint reported.

Why are Indians protesting Agnipath?

Agnipath renders several aspirants ineligible for jobs in the armed forces as the minimum age bar has now risen from 16.5 to 17.5 years.

The tour-of-duty programme limits a recruit’s tenure to four years — only 25% of a batch will be roped in for a full 15-year tenure in the non-officer ranks. Those left out will be paid 11-12 lakh rupees ($14,089-$15,370), a corpus part comprising the salary and part government’s contribution.

Besides, the four-year-stint doesn’t make them eligible for a pension. Till now, persons aged 16.5-21 years could be recruited across defence forces for a period of 15 years, making them eligible for pension at the end of their services.

Effectively, Agnipath, which is meant to reduce the government’s payroll and pension burden, reduces job security for most recruits.

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