RANCHI: Rohit Kumar Singh is a worried young man. He fears his dreams of carving out a life as a soldier in the Indian Army may well be a chimera once the new Agnipath scheme rolls out.
The son of a fruit seller in Jharia area of Jharkhand's Dhanbad district, Singh has strived for three years and cleared the physical and medical examinations for recruitment in the armed forces.
He was waiting for the written examination, which was pending due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, he is worried that his dream of joining the armed forces will be shattered due to the Agnipath scheme.
Under the scheme, youngsters between 17.5 and 23 years of age will be recruited for a period of four years, following which 75 per cent of them will have to take compulsory retirement sans pension while the remainder will continue serving.
The selection will be made based on their performance. "I have cleared physical and medical examinations in 2019 and 2020 respectively. We were told that the written test will be conducted once the COVID-19 situation normalises."
"We were hopeful that the examination will be conducted soon as the pandemic situation is normal now. However, suddenly we see that the government has introduced this new Agnipath scheme, under which all examinations will be conducted," Singh said.
The aspirant said he has prepared for several years for the permanent service commission, and not for contractual employment of only four years. Singh is not alone in expressing his grievances.
He and 10 other aspirants who practice together at Jharia's Lodhna Ground and have qualified for the written examination, face a similar fate.
These aspirants, along with hundreds of others, had staged protests against the Agnipath scheme in different parts of Dhanbad district on Friday. They had also blocked railway tracks, forcing railway authorities to cancel five trains.
Sagar Kumar, another aspirant, said, "We demand rollback of the new scheme as it will not only shatter our dreams of serving the nation but also spoil our careers." Similar protests were witnessed in other districts including Bokaro, Palamu and East Singhbhum.
Railway and road traffic were disrupted in many areas. In Palamu, protesters pelted a goods train with stones at Daltonganj Railway Station, prompting the police to resort to lathi-charge to control the situation.
Agitators had also blocked railway tracks in Bokaro station. A similar protest was witnessed in Jamshedpur. Sociologists, however, feel the protests are a natural reaction because of shrinking employment opportunities.
"Armed and police forces have been a major source of employment for youths, especially those from rural areas. These jobs also contributed to their economic and social upliftment. "They don't find Agnipath scheme lucrative as they fear they won't find jobs after four years of service amid rising unemployment. The protests are natural reaction and not politically motivated although political parties may try to cash in on the situation," Dr Prabhat Kumar Singh, associate professor at the Sociology Department of Ranchi University said.
As per monthly unemployment data provided by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Jharkhand's unemployment rate in May was 13.1 per cent.
Meanwhile, the state's ruling alliance partners JMM and Congress have protested against the scheme and demanded its rollback. "We see our jawans with pride.But the Centre is trying to undermine that pride by employing them for only four years, after which 75 per cent will have to work as security guards at ATMs or man the gates of restaurants," JMM spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya said.
State Congress chief Rajesh Thakur said, "The Centre is playing with the future of the youths by introducing this short-term recruitment scheme."