Demonstrators in eastern India’s Bihar state destroyed public property and looted offices at a train station, expressing their anger over the new military conscription plan and calling on the government to reverse course.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has launched a program called Agnipath, or “Path of Fire”, aimed at bringing more personnel into the military on four-year contracts in a bid to reduce the average lifespan of India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces.
A senior military general, Lieutenant-General Anil Puri, told NDTV news channel that the aim of the plan was to make the army more modern and effective.
Analysts said the new system will also help cut rising pension costs, but opponents believe it will limit opportunities for permanent jobs in the Defense Forces, affecting salaries, pensions and other benefits.
One person was killed and more than a dozen injured in a series of protests in some parts of the country against the new regime this week.
Thousands of young men attacked carriages, burned tires and clashed with officials at a train station in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, on Saturday.
Authorities canceled 369 trains across the country, many of which passed through trouble spots.
Sanjay Singh, a senior law enforcement official in the state, said at least 12 protesters were arrested and at least four police officers were injured in clashes.
“Between 2,000 and 2,500 people entered the Masaourhi train station and attacked the forces,” he added.
In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, police have arrested at least 250 people in so-called preventive arrests. Some protesters accused the police of using excessive force.
To stem the outrage, the federal government on Saturday announced concessions for those who will serve on the program.
The Home Office announced that it would allocate 10% of the vacant positions in the paramilitary forces and the Assam Rifle Unit of the Indian Army, to those who have retired from the army after the four-year period set by the programme.
The Ministry of Defense said it will allocate 10% of its vacancies to those who complete the program.
“People may have been misunderstood because it is a new system but we have discussed it with everyone including ex-soldiers,” Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told a conference on Saturday.
The program calls for 25% of enlisted soldiers to be retained after four years of service, with the remainder prioritized for other jobs, such as state police.
On Friday, the navy chief said the protests were unexpected and likely the result of misinformation about the new system.
“I did not expect such protests,” Hari Kumar told ANI. “It is the single largest shift in human resource management that has ever occurred in the Indian Army.”
The program is not open to women in combat roles and there are no current plans to change this.