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Trains Burnt, Suicide In Odisha, Internet Suspended in Haryana: How Agnipath Protests Have Rocked The Nation

Agnipath protest: One person was killed in Telangana's Secunderabad amid ongoing protests against the Centre's Agnipath scheme while one-armed forces aspirant died by suicide in Odisha fearing cancellation of the CEE examination.

Youths protest at Dharamshala against Agnipath before Prime Minister Narendra Modi s roadshow on Thu
Youths protest at Dharamshala against Agnipath before Prime Minister Narendra Modi s roadshow on Thu Image Courtesy- Maritunjay Puri

The nationwide protests against the Centre's much controversial Agnipath scheme continue to spread as trains have been set ablaze, public and police vehicles damaged and personnel attacked and injured across several states.

One person was killed in Hyderabad on Friday while over 15 got injured in Telangana's Secunderabad amid ongoing protests against the Agnipath scheme. One armed forces aspirant died by suicide on Saturday in Odisha fearing the cancellation of the CEE examination after the announcement of Agnipath.

Over 200 trains have been affected so far due to the protests against the Agnipath scheme for recruitment in the armed forces, the Railways said on Friday. It added that around 35 trains have been cancelled while 13 short-terminated since the protests erupted on Wednesday.

The worst hit has been the East Central Railways (ECR) which covers Bihar, Jharkhand and parts of Uttar Pradesh, the states which have witnessed widespread protests. Authorities have also decided to "monitor" the operations of eight trains due to the agitations.  

Angry mobs have targeted trains and railway property in their protests against the Centre’s Agnipath scheme for recruitment in the armed forces on a short-term contractual basis. 

Coaches of three running trains in the ECR and one empty rake in Kulharia (also in the ECR) were damaged by violent protestors. One coach of a stationary train was also damaged in the washing line at Uttar Pradesh' Balia. 

Damages to the fixed assets are difficult to be assessed at the moment, railway officials said.

As the violence spiralled, the government raised the upper age limit to 23 years from 21 years for recruitment under the scheme for the year 2022, without making a reference to the turmoil.

"Cognizant of the fact that it has not been possible to undertake the recruitment during the last two years, the government has decided that a one-time waiver shall be granted for the proposed recruitment cycle for 2022," a defence ministry spokesperson said, adding the upper-age limit for recruitment under Agnipath has been raised to 23 years. 

Here's an account of what's going on where and how the enraged armed force aspirants are protesting against the Centre's whimsical move

Administration on alert in Bengal 

With neighbouring Bihar and a few pockets in Bengal witnessing protests over the Agnipath scheme, the West Bengal government on Friday asked all district administrations to take precautionary measures to ensure that law and order situation is not disturbed anywhere, a senior official said. 

Bengal on Friday saw disruption of train services on the Sealdah-Bangaon route in North 24 Parganas district as a group of students held a demonstration on railway tracks in protest against the scheme. 

Police on Saturday afternoon clashed with agitating members of the All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO) and All India Democratic Youth Organisation (AIDYO) when they tried to block roads in the southern Kolkata's Hazra area, a hundred metres from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's residence. 

Protesting the scheme, the activists demanded that recruits into India's armed forces be given permanent jobs.

Haryana

Youths pelted vehicles with stones in Ballabhgarh, squatted on railway tracks in Jind and burnt tyres in Rohtak as protests continued in Haryana for the second day on Friday against the Centre's Agnipath scheme.

Police said they resorted to a mild lathicharge and rounded up over 40 youths in Ballabhgarh, where the authorities extended suspension of mobile internet and SMS services for next 24 hours starting 10 pm on Friday as a precautionary measure.   

The authorities also extended suspension of mobile internet and SMS services except voice calls in Palwal district for next 24 hours ending 8 pm Saturday while these services will remain suspended in Mahendergarh for next 24 hours starting 1630 hrs Friday.                

Protests broke out in Narnaul (Mahendergarh) earlier during the day against the Agnipath scheme. Protests also broke out in Hisar, Fatehabad and Jhajjar. 

Odisha

The protest in Odisha was triggered by the suicide of 27-year-old Dhanajay Mohanty on Wednesday night due to frustration over the 'Agnipath' scheme, who had cleared the physical fitness test a year and a half ago during a recruitment drive by the Army.

His family members said that Mohanty had received the admit card for the CEE to be held on August 30. But he apprehended that the examination stood cancelled after the announcement of the 'Agnipath' scheme, which proposes the recruitment in the armed forces on a contractual basis.

They said Mohanty had lost his mental balance fearing his hard work had gone waste and hanged himself from the ceiling by a rope at his home late on Wednesday night.

Hundreds of aspirants for recruitment in the Armed Forces blocked the arterial Ring Road in Cuttack and tore down hoardings in Cantonment area of the silver city.

Many among the protestors claimed to have already cleared physical fitness and medical tests for recruitment in the Army last year and were waiting to write the Common Entrance Examination (CEE).

Police baton-charged the protestors and detained some of them, Cuttack deputy commissioner of police Pinak Mishra said.

Bihar

"So far we have arrested 125 people in connection with the violence. Two dozen FIRs have been registered. At least 16 police personnel have been injured across the state in clashes with the protesters," Sanjay Singh, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order), told PTI.

He said, "We are conducting further investigations and arrest of more people is likely."

The protests also caused massive disruption of rail traffic. According to the East Central Railway zone headquartered in Hajipur, seven-passenger trains had to be cancelled because of the disturbances while many others were either short-terminated or run via alternate routes.

"Railway traffic had been disrupted since 8 am. Normalcy was restored by 1530 hours," said the ECR in a statement. 

Besides staging demonstrations on railway tracks in over a dozen districts, the protesters set fire to coaches in Chhapra and Bhabhua while broken window panes of several trains bore the testimony of the vandalism on display.

Following the protest, internet services have been suspended in 12 districts in Bihar. The government said that the misuse of social networking sites is likely to be detrimental to the interests of peace in these 12 districts.

Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh police so far has arrested a total of 260 people while six FIRs were lodged until Friday in connection with violent protests over the Centre's Agnipath scheme.  

According to information provided by ADG (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar, the FIRs were lodged in Firozabad, Aligarh, Varanasi, and Gautam Buddh Nagar (1) districts. 

The maximum 109 arrests were made in Ballia followed by Mathura (70) Aligarh (31) Varanasi (27) and Gautam Budh Nagar (15). According to senior police officials, the number of arrests is likely to go up in next 24 hours.

Earlier on Friday, youths protesting against the Centre's new scheme to recruit soldiers, set an empty train on fire and vandalised a few other trains here, prompting the police to lathicharge them.

Police sources said that the protesters gathered at the Veeri Lork Stadium here and then marched to the Ballia railway station. They also allegedly pelted stones near the railway godown and targeted private shops at the railway station platform.

District Magistrate Saumya Agarwal said, "Considering the possibility of youths protesting, police was deployed from the morning itself. Some unruly youths came and tried to pelt stones, but the administration did not allow them to succeed. One portion of Ballia railway station was vandalised. Action is being taken against the unruly elements."

Superintendent of Police Raj Karan Nayyar said that the youths are being persuaded to call off the protest and sent back.

In Uttar Pradesh, a mob entered a railway station in Ballia this morning and set a train coach on fire, damaging railway station property before the police used force to disperse them.

On Saturday, a police jeep and an Uttar Pradesh roadways bus were torched in Jaunpur while RLD and AAP workers protested in Meerut as the agitation against the Agnipath defence recruitment scheme spread in different parts of the state.

In Kannauj, youths staged a protest at Saurikh on the Agra-Lucknow Expressway demanding the withdrawal of the contentious scheme.

Telangana

A 24 year-old man died and several were injured after security personnel opened fire on hundreds of agitators at the Secunderabad railway station on Friday as the protests against the Centre's new Agnipath scheme escalated into large scale violence and arson.

The incident led to a war of words between the ruling TRS in Telangana and the opposition BJP, with Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao blaming the "faulty procedures" of the Centre for the death of Rakesh.

Expressing shock and sympathy over the death of the man, Rao announced Ra 25 lakh ex-gratia to the kin of the deceased, an official release said. He also announced government job to a family member as per qualifications. 

The protest against the Centre's 'Agnipath' scheme relating to recruitment in the armed forces spread to the South on Friday  as police fired in the air to disperse protesters who went on the rampage at Secunderabad Railway station.

According to a senior official of South Central Railway,  the agitators set on fire some coaches of three passenger trains and none of the passengers was hurt in the incidents."There was an incident (of firing), to control them and some firing also happened," the official told PTI.

Tension prevailed at Secunderabad Railway station and in the vicinity as people ran helter-skelter in the wake of the protest. Shops near the railway station were shut. 

Delhi 

Hundreds of youth took to the streets in Bilaspur and Sidhrawali areas of Gurugram and Rewari, some 50 km away from Delhi.  The protesters laid a virtual seize on bus stands and roads, crippling traffic on the Gurugram-Jaipur highway, and held a protest at Bilaspur Chowk.

The protests caused traffic diversions and snarls in surrounding areas. According to reports, police lathi-charged the protesters in a bid to bring the situation under control.

The AAP on Thursday alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has "betrayed" the country's youth with the announcement of ‘Agnipath’ scheme for recruitment into the armed forces, and demanded that the decision be withdrawn.

In a video message, the party's Rajya Sabha MP and spokesperson Sanjay Singh also exhorted the country's youth to "wake up" and raise their voice against the Centre's decision "in a democratic manner", claiming that those to be joining the armed forces under the scheme would be left nowhere after completing the four years of their service.

"The Agnipath scheme for army recruitment is a clear betrayal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with 20 crore youth of the country. The government has stabbed the youth of the country in their back," Singh charged.

The Gurugram district administration has imposed Section 144 as a precautionary measure even though no fresh protest was reported here on Friday against the Centre's Agnipath scheme to recruit soldiers.

Deputy Commissioner Nishant Yadav said the order was issued as protests were likely to spread to the second day here and that the administraton anticipated angry crowd at railway stations, bus stands, markets, national highways and power grids among other places in the district.

"This may have created obstruction, disturbance or interference in the maintenance of law and order," he said.

"Under Criminal Procedure-1973, I, Nishant Kumar Yadav, 1.A.S., District Magistrate, Gurugram hereby prohibit the free movement of persons and gathering more than four persons within Gurugram," the order said.

Any person found guilty of violation shall be prosecuted and punished as per law, the order mentioned.

Himachal Pradesh

There were protests in Kangra and Hamirpur districts of Himachal Pradesh on Thursday against the Centre's Agnipath scheme for four-year contractual recruitment in the armed forces.

The protesters in Kangra, led by Youth Congress district president Pankaj Kumar, tried to reach Dharamshala where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to hold a roadshow, but were stopped by police several km away at Gaggal.

The protesters raised slogans against the government and the prime minister and demanded the rollback of the scheme which they claimed was "a cruel joke" on the unemployed youths of the country.

The police took away the protesters in a bus and dropped them at a place some distance away.

In Hamirpur district, hundreds of unemployed youngsters gathered at Gandhi Chowk Thursday morning and raised slogans against the government for launching the Agnipath scheme.

They demanded its immediate withdrawal and regular recruitment for them in the Indian Army.

Uttarakhand

The national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and a prominent face of the 2020-21 farmers' stir in Delhi, took to social media to lodge his protest against the Centre's new step for contractual recruitment into the armed forces.

"The farmers of the country have suffered for 13 months due to the government's wrong policies and today, the youngsters of the country are facing the consequences of a wrong decision. The government should know that those getting into the armed forces are also sons of farmers. We will fight till our last breath for the youngsters of the country and our children," Tikait said in a tweet in Hindi.

He also shared a picture along with the tweet that claimed that a young man from Haryana's Rohtak, who was preparing for recruitment into the armed forces for four years, ended his life after the government announced the "Agnipath" scheme.

Tikait's remarks came on a day when violent protests erupted in several parts of north India, including Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, over the Centre's new announcement.

Protests in Rajasthan

Scores of defence job aspirants led by the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) staged protests in several parts of Rajasthan on Thursday against the Centre's Agnipath scheme for four-year contractual recruitment in the armed forces.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said the central government was playing with the future of the youth and the country's security with its Agnipath scheme and demanded its immediate rollback.

Job aspirants and RLP activists took out protest rallies in Jodhpur, Sikar, Jaipur, Nagaur, Ajmer and Jhunjhunu districts and raised slogans against the central government.

In Jaipur, a large number of youths demonstrated at the district collectorate and raised slogans against the scheme and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. RLP national convener and MP Hanuman Beniwal participated in the protest here.

"The central government will have to bow down and roll back the scheme. The jawans on whose strength the prime minister is at the pinnacle of power will give a lesson to the BJP in 2024," Beniwal said while addressing the gathering.
 

Punjab 
 

Job aspirants on Friday staged a protest here against the Centre’s “Agnipath” scheme and demanded its rollback.  

The Centre on Tuesday unveiled the ambitious scheme for recruitment of the youth aged between 17 and a half and 21 in the Army, Navy and the Air Force, largely on a four-year short-term contractual basis.

The youth recruited under the scheme will be known as "Agniveers". After the completion of the four-year tenure, 25 per cent of the recruits from each specific batch will be offered regular service. 

Protesters belonging to Chohal and nearby villages carried placards against the new Army recruitment scheme and told the media that they have been working hard joining the Army for the past several years.  

Their dream has been shattered with the scheme, they said.

They warned that if the Centre does not take back the scheme they would intensify their struggle.

They also presented a memorandum to Hoshiarpur Additional Deputy Commissioner (General) Sandip Kumar.

Protests against the scheme have raged through several states for the third day on Friday.

The process of recruitment under the recruitment scheme will start in a "few days", Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said earlier in the day and appealed to the youth looking at joining the military to start preparing for it.

Singh also tried to assuage concerns of young people agitating against the four-year contractual recruitment plan, saying the new model is a "golden opportunity" for those wanting to join the country's armed forces.  

He said the government's decision to increase the upper age limit from 21 years to 23 years for recruitment under the scheme in 2022 will allow a significant number of youths to join the armed forces.

Gujarat

Army aspirants on Saturday gathered to protest outside the recruitment office in Gujarat's Jamnagar city demanding that their written exam, which has been pending for the last two years, be conducted at the earliest.

"We have been preparing for the final exam for the last year and half, but it has not been conducted as yet. Our medical, physical exam has been conducted, but the Army recruitment officer said he has not received the order from the top regarding the final exam," said one of the protesters. 

(With PTI Inputs)

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