Violent protests in India over new government recruitment policy. In the northern states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, protesters set fire to trains and blocked major highways, demanding the withdrawal of the program, the BBC reports.
The “Agnipath” program, or Calea Focului, which was presented on Tuesday, is aimed at men between the ages of 17.5 and 21. Candidates who pass the exams will enlist in the army for four years, after which only 25% of them will be retained in the armed forces.
In an attempt to calm the protesters, the federal government announced on Thursday night that, only this year, candidates up to the age of 23 can register. Army recruitment has been blocked since the COVID-19 pandemic began, prompting millions of desperate candidates to fear that they will be too old to apply for defense.
The announced reform aims to reduce the army’s spending on raising salaries and pensions – which consumes more than half of the country’s budget – and freeing up funds for modernizing the armed forces. The government said this would “improve the profile of the armed forces as well”.
But potential recruits say the program does little to create jobs and opportunities. The program has also received criticism from some generals and defense experts, who say it could weaken the military structure and have serious ramifications for national security, especially as India faces tensions with two of its neighbors, Pakistan and China.
“It’s a stupid move that could affect the effectiveness of the security forces,” said retired Major General Sheonan Singh.
“Saving money is good, but it should not be done at the expense of the defense,” he added.
Under the Agnipath program, 46,000 soldiers will be recruited this year. The soldiers will go through a training period for six months and then be deployed for three and a half years. During this period, they will receive an initial monthly salary of 30,000 rupees ($ 384), plus additional benefits that will reach 40,000 rupees by the end of the four-year service.
Army recruitment is an important source of income, given that unemployment reaches 20% among young people.
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