NEW DELHI/PATNA: Road and rail traffic was partially affected in some regions on Monday during a ‘Bharat bandh’ called against the Agnipath military recruitment scheme, while protests appeared to taper off in many states, with authorities stepping up security and imposing curbs after days of unrest.
The Army issued a notification for compulsory online registration of all Agnipath job aspirants from July, as the Centre appeared firm on implementing the scheme despite the Congress and other opposition parties upping the ante against the Modi government and the BJP.
The Railways cancelled 529 trains as operations remained disrupted due to the protests. These included 181 mail/express trains and 348 passengers trains, the Railways said in a statement.
Authorities said that the bandh call was given on social media and did not name the organisations behind it.
Massive traffic jams were witnessed on Delhi roads as restrictions were in place due to the bandh and the Satyagraha protest by Congress over the Centre’s Agnipath scheme and the questioning of Rahul Gandhi by the Enforcement Directorate.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, party’s leader in the Lok Sabha Adir Ranjan Chowdhury, senior leaders Sachin Pilot, Salman Khurshid, Mallikarjun Kharge and KC Venugopal took part in the protest at the Jantar Mantar.
Indian Youth Congress workers stopped a train at the Shivaji Bridge railway station near Connaught Place. Sixteen protesters were detained and the track was cleared by security personnel after about half an hour, sources said.
Commuters from Noida and Gurugram were left hassled as they battled traffic snarls while driving into the city whereas inside the capital, Lutyens’ Delhi, which was the epicentre of protests, remained chock-a-block.
While the strike call choked traffic on several arterial roads, no impact was seen in the city’s markets where it was business as usual.
In view of the bandh call, the Delhi Police had tightened security across the national capital and its bordering areas and warned of strict action against those trying to disrupt the law and order situation
Other states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Assam and Rajasthan had also heightened security and imposed prohibitory orders in some districts to thwart possible protests and violence during the strike.
There was a heavy deployment of police at railway stations, including those in Ambala, Rewari and Sonipat in Haryana and Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar in Punjab to prevent any untoward incident, they said.
Protests were reported in some parts of Haryana, Punjab and Jammu.
“Bharat Bandh call was given on social media though no group had owned it. The police were on alert since Monday morning with elaborate arrangements being made with vast deployment of the force,” Uttar Pradesh Additional Director General of Police (law and order) Prashant Kumar said.
As many as 151 companies of state and central paramilitary besides the civil police were deployed, he said adding that no untoward incident has been reported from anywhere.
“There has been no impact of the Bharat Bandh call anywhere in the state,” he said.
More than 5000 security personnel were deployed in Jharkhand and schools remained shut across the state in view of the bandh call.
There was no report of any untoward incident from anywhere in the state so far during the day, Jharkhand Police spokesperson and IG (Operations) Amol V Homkar told PTI.
Shops and business establishments remained open in capital Ranchi, the steel city of Jamshedpur, Palamu and elsewhere. There was tight security at Ranchi railway station and security forces staged a flag march in Koderma
In Bihar, which had seen large-scale violence, internet services remain suspended in 17 out of 38 districts and heavy deployment of police and paramilitary forces continued in places.
In the backdrop of the protests, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said decisions and reforms may be unpleasant temporarily but with time the country will experience their benefits.
After inaugurating or laying the foundation for various developmental works in Karnataka, he said, “The path of reforms can alone take us towards new targets and new resolve…we have opened up the space and Defence sector which for decades were under government control.”
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, however, questioned the prime minister’s “silence” on the Agnipath issue.
A day after a tri-services media briefing at the Defence Ministry took place on Agnipath, Kharge said, “For the first time in 75 years, service chiefs are being fronted to defend a policy decision by the government.”
“Why are the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Defence Minister quiet on the Agnipath scheme?” the senior Congress leader tweeted.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that the BJP was trying to create its own “armed” cadre base through the new defence recruitment programme.
“The BJP is trying to create its armed cadre base through this scheme. What will they do after four years? The party wants to give arms into the hands of the youth,” the Trinamool Congress chief said in the Assembly.
Farmers’ collective Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has decided to hold a nationwide protest against the Centre’s Agnipath military recruitment scheme on June 24, its leader Rakesh Tikait announced
The SKM led the 2020-21 protests against the now-withdrawn farm laws in Delhi.
In its Monday notification, the Army said the online registration for the force’s recruitment can be done on “www.joinindianarmy.nic.in” and was mandatory for all the job aspirants under the new model.
The Army said ‘Agniveers’ would form a distinct rank in the Indian Army, which would be different from any other existing ranks.
It said the ‘Agniveers’ will be barred from disclosing classified information gained during the four-year service period to any unauthorised person or source under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
Hundreds of people have been arrested and the role of coaching centres is being probed in connection with the violent protests that broke out after the Centre last Tuesday unveiled the Agnipath scheme under which youths between 17-and-a-half and 21 years would be inducted into the three services for a four-year tenure.
Twenty-five percent of the recruits will be retained for regular service.
The government projected this scheme as a major overhaul of the decades-old selection process to enhance the youthful profile of the services, but the protesters are demanding its rollback claiming that it will rob recruits of job security and other benefits.
While the government has announced several incentives and concessions for Agniveers, the three services on Sunday warned those who indulged in violence and arson will not be inducted.