The Opposition on Monday stuck to its demand for immediate withdrawal of the Agnipath scheme, rejecting clarifications given by defence minister Rajnath Singh and the three service chiefs at a consultative committee meeting of the defence ministry as unconvincing.
Despite a detailed presentation made at the meeting, six Opposition MPs submitted their dissent note, reiterating their demand for withdrawal of the Agnipath scheme. They cited views by experts, decorated soldiers and the widespread protests by the youths and asked the government
to send the scheme to the parliamentary standing committee for defence for wider consultation and introduce a pilot project instead of thrusting it without addressing concerns.
The MPs who opposed the scheme included Shaktisinh Gohil and Rajni Patil of the Congress, Saugata Roy and Sudip Bandyopadhyay of Trinamul, Supriya Sule of the NCP and A.D. Singh of the RJD. The only Opposition MP present at the meeting who didn’t sign the note was Manish Tewari of the Congress who has publicly supported the Agnipath scheme. Only 12 members of the consultative committee were present at the meeting.
One of the members who attended the meeting told The Telegraph: “The explanations were not convincing. They failed to give answers to specific queries. This initiative on Monday may be the government’s ploy to avoid discussion on Agnipath in the session of Parliament beginning July 18. We have asked the defence minister to withdraw the scheme, rejecting their argument of massive response. There is so much unemployment that even youths who are deeply anguished by the scheme have applied.”
The Opposition leaders asked the defence minister and the service chiefs why the armed forces were being weakened by a scheme that has raised so many questions and triggered such opposition.
They pointed to the opinion of former chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat who suggested increasing the retirement age and referred to the inputs from the Russia-Ukraine war where soldiers with long-term employment performed much better.
The Opposition members also criticised the government’s decision to force the service chiefs to defend their scheme.
Congress member Gohil insisted that the scheme wasn’t conceived by the armed forces and the Prime Minister forced the top generals to defend it only after nationwide protests erupted.
“Had it been planned and implemented by the army, they would have alerted the youths who applied for jobs, telling them that a new scheme was in the offing.
Sources quoted Gohil as saying: “Youths aspiring to join the armed forces across the country are disappointed and angry. This scheme will adversely impact both the armed forces and the careers of youth who would be forced to retire at 22 or 24 years. Captain Bana Singh, who was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, has said Agnipath will badly damage the country. He asked everybody to save the country.”
He also referred to the dignity and honour in the society of being a soldier, which was being watered down by the Agnipath scheme.