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Bharat Bandh: Over 500 trains cancelled and normal life affected as protests mount over Agnipath

Print edition : Jun 20, 2022 T+T-

Bharat Bandh: Over 500 trains cancelled and normal life affected as protests mount over Agnipath

The Bharat Bandh led to traffic snarls in the capital.

The Bharat Bandh led to traffic snarls in the capital. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Bharat Bandh, the country-wide shutdown to protest against the Centre’s Agnipath recruitment scheme in defence forces and announced without any public debate and pilloried by the opposition and a large section of political observers, led to traffic snarls in pockets of Delhi-NCR besides fierce demonstrations in parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Over 500 trains were cancelled today, a precautionary measure in view of major losses suffered by the Railways as protests turned into arson and rioting over the past five days.

The Congress leaders held a ‘Satyagraha’ sit-in at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi in support of armed forces aspirants who are the sternest critics of the scheme. Some Youth Congress workers, who blocked a train at the Shivaji Bridge railway station near Connaught Place, were taken into custody. Noida’s Chilla border and the connecting Noida-Delhi Link Road was particularly affected by the bandh with long queues of vehicles jamming the road.

In Uttar Pradesh, the administration announced that at least 27 protesters in Varanasi will be made to cough up damages for targeting public property. Since the Ministry of Defence unveiled the scheme on June 14, protests broke out in different parts of the State, with mobs vandalising trains and damaging buses, in particular in Ballia, Aligarh, Gautam Buddh Nagar and Varanasi. However, no untoward incident was reported today, according to Prashant Kumar, the State’s Additional Director General (Law and Order).

In Punjab, the epicentre of armed forces aspirants, heavy security was deployed in Jalandhar railway station. In Jharkhand, schools were ordered to remain shut and the ongoing examinations of Classes IX and XI have been postponed.

The resentment against the government’s latest initiative can be gauged by the steady outpour of protests across the country. In Haryana, demonstrations were witnessed in several districts, notably in Rohtak and Fatehabad, where disillusioned job aspirants blocked the Lal Batti Chowk. Security was beefed up in several States including Kerala, Telangana, West Bengal, and Rajasthan.

Opposition leaders have been scathing of the government. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was attempting to create an armed cadre base through the Agnipath scheme. The Congress said a delegation would meet President Ram Nath Kovind to demand a rollback of the scheme. Ajay Maken, the party’s general secretary, pointed out that “the scheme first should be discussed with the youth and in Parliament”.

The Centre has refused to budge even as the protests mount. The Army issued a notification on Monday inviting applications under the Agnipath scheme. The notification said that online registration will commence from July.

The Agnipath scheme, which will now be the only route for induction into the armed forces, stipulates the recruitment of soldiers below the rank of Commissioned Officers for a period of four years including six months of training. Grave concerns have been expressed regarding the future of Agniveers, or soldiers recruited under this initiative, as only 25 per cent of them will be inducted into the permanent cadre even as the retirees will not be awarded pension or gratuity benefits.