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Punjab assembly passes resolution against Agnipath scheme

Punjab assembly passes resolution against Agnipath scheme

Chief minister Bhagwant Mann, who moved the resolution in the House, said he will soon raise the issue over the contentious programme with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah.

The Punjab assembly on Thursday passed a resolution against the Centre’s Agnipath scheme for short-term recruitment to the armed forces that has triggered massive protests across the country.

The resolution was, however, opposed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Chief minister Bhagwant Mann, who moved the resolution in the House, said he will soon raise the issue over the contentious programme with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah.

“The unilateral announcement of the Agnipath scheme by the Government of India has witnessed widespread reactions in all states, including Punjab. This scheme is against the country’s youth. It’s likely to create dissatisfaction among those who wish to serve the armed forces of the nation for a long time,” Mann said.

The Agnipath scheme was announced by Union defence minister Rajnath Singh in the presence of the three chiefs on June 14. Cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security, the programme seeks to recruit soldiers, including women, for only four years with a provision to retain 25% of them in the regular cadre for 15 more years after another round of screening, to enhance the operational preparedness of the armed forces, and create a skilled and dynamic workforce for employment in other sectors.

Recruits under the Agnipath scheme will be called Agniveers. The armed forces will recruit 46,000 Agniveers – in the age group of 17-and-a-half and 21 years – this year, with the first recruitment rally under the new model to be held in 90 days, the defence ministry had said.

Army aspirants, however, raised concerns over the future of Agniveers who have completed their four-year tour of duty. Following the announcement of the scheme, thousands of young men broke vehicles, blocked rail and road traffic, pelted stones at government buildings, burnt trains, cars and political party offices, and violently clashed with police across parts of northern India in protest against the scheme.

The protests prompted the government to relax the upper age limit for this year’s recruitment to 23 but also warned that those indulging in violence in the name of protests will be barred from joining the armed forces.

The Punjab assembly urged the Centre to withdraw the short-term recruitment plan and provide long-term employment to the youth in the armed forces.

It must be highlighted that more than one lakh soldiers from Punjab serve in the Armed Forces of the nation and many of them give the supreme sacrifice of their life on the borders of the country every year, Mann said.

“The youth of Punjab consider serving in the Indian Armed Forces as a matter of pride and honour and are renowned for their valour and courage. This (Agnipath) scheme has crushed the dreams of many youths of Punjab who have been aspiring to join the armed forces as regular soldiers,” he said.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLA Manpreet Singh Ayali extended his support to the resolution and demanded rollback of the scheme. “In my opinion, the scheme should be withdrawn by the Centre, and a unanimous resolution be passed in the House,” he said.

Leader of opposition and Congress legislator Partap Singh Bajwa also demanded that the resolution be passed unanimously. “Why is it that any new scheme introduced by the BJP-led NDA government is opposed?” he said.

India faces unique geographical challenges as it is surrounded by nuclear-powered Pakistan and China, Bajwa said. “We cannot copy Israel and the US as they don’t have such hostile borders like ours. It is sad that our country has planned to hire soldiers on a contractual basis. Contractual employees can’t fight hostile enemies,” he added.

The Agnipath scheme should be withdrawn as you cannot become a soldier in four years, out of which, 18 months are devoted to training, Bajwa said. The resolution must be sent to the Centre through the governor, he added.

Bajwa also urged the chief minister to take a joint party delegation from the state to the Prime Minister to seek the scheme’s withdrawal.

“The soldiers are the backbone of the armed forces. The Agnipath scheme will break the backbone of the forces,” state cabinet minister Harjot Singh Bains said.

The resolution was opposed by BJP’s two legislators in the House – Ashwani Sharma and Jangi Lal Mahajan.

“We should have faith in the heads of the three chiefs of the army, navy and air force who have stood by the scheme,” Sharma said.

The assembly, meanwhile, also passed a resolution against the Centre’s alleged attempt to change the status of Panjab University (PU) into a central university.

This resolution too was supported by all MLAs, except those from the BJP who asked the state government whether there was actually a proposal to change the status of the institution.

Any decision to change the character of PU would not be acceptable to the people of Punjab and, therefore, any proposal in this regard should be dropped with immediate effect, the resolution, which was moved by higher education minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, said.

The House is concerned about the attempt being made by vested interests to push the matter for change of status of PU into a central university on one pretext or the other, it added.

Punjab is being robbed of its rights by the Centre, Hayer said. “PU belongs to Punjab. It is our heritage, and it is a matter of identity for us. We will not let the central government centralise it at any cost,” he added.

Congress MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira accused the Centre of trying to take over PU from Punjab.

BJP legislator Mahajan categorically denied any move by the Centre to alter the status of PU.

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