Uttarakhand youth fear same fate as that of SSB ‘Guerrillas’ of 1962 in “Agnipath’ recruitment scheme
Pithoragarh, June 18
The youth as well as the elders of the border areas of Kumoan region are circumspect about the new ‘Agnipath’ scheme of the Indian government in recruiting youth between the age of 17.5 till 23 years in armed forces for four years’ tenure. The youth thus selected in the scheme would be known as “Agniveers’.
The entire Uttarakhand state is a fertile catchment area of the Indian Army, Navy, Air Force besides all the para-military forces. Two famous regiments of the Indian army Garhwal regiment and Kumoan regiment are based in the state getting recruits from amongst the youth belonging to both Grhwal and Kumoan regions of Uttarakhand.
However, the announcement of scheme has led to protests by the youth of the state in most of the major cities and towns of Uttarakhand in the past three days.
They youth as well as the veterans, particularly ‘Guerrilla’s, both men and women of Sahastra Seema Bal (SSB) who were recruited after the 1962 Indo-China war, and left to fend for themselves are afraid that the new “Agnipath” scheme fearing that new recruits could end up like them. Thousands of youth both men and women from border areas of Uttarakhand were recruited as ‘Guerrillas’ after the 1962 Indo-China conflict. They were given arms training for months with an aim to fight against any design of China in the border areas. However, after some time the scheme was abandoned and ‘Guerrilla’s were left to fend for themselves. For the past 60 years, these ‘Guerrillas’ as they are called had been fighting for their livelihood and rights with the central as well as state government but to no avail. They had countless dharnas and protests at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, Dehradun and district headquarters of Almora, Chamoli and Pithoragarh but they received only assurances which were never fulfilled.
Brahmanand Dalakoti, President of the SSB Volunteer Kalyan Samiti, Almora said that assurances of giving employment after four years active service in Army, Navy and Air Force is a farce. “ The central government and the Uttarakhand government has utterly failed in providing a decent package to the SSB ‘Guerrilla’s of 1962 and providing them employment. So who will believe these governments,” he said.
The SSB ‘Guerrillas’ are holding dharna for the past 13 years at district headquarters at Almora in support of their demands but none has listened to them. There are 21,000 ‘Guerrillas’ still in Uttarakhand. The SSB ‘Guerrilla’s scheme was winded up in 2002 and some of them were employed in the insurgency hit Punjab and J&K for intelligence gathering but later relieved.
‘Agnipath’, the new recruitment scheme is being opposed by youths of the state who had been waiting for restart of the recruitment process which was halted due to pandemic two years ago.
The protests against the said scheme were witnessed in Dehradun, Haldwani, Rudrapur, Pithoragarh, Almora and Garhwal region districts of Uttarakhand state which are the catchment of the armed forces.
“The union government befooled the youths who had qualified the physical tests and were awaiting written examinations which could not be held due to pandemic and came with new ‘Agnipath’ scheme, ” said Chandan Joshi, an army aspirant from Pithoragarh.
The youths opposing the scheme said that for them recruitment in the armed forces is not a contract but a lifelong commitment which has been nurtured in the hills of Uttarakhand from generation to generation since past one century.
” Joining army for us, is a whole life profession for generations, we the people of hills not only get enough money to run our households comfortably during service in army depending on the tenure of the service but also get post retirement pension, medical benefits and canteen facilities besides getting reservation in jobs,” said Diwan Singh, a retired army person from Nawali village of Pithoragarh.
Lt. Gen. ( retired) Mohan Chandra Bhandari, said that this scheme will not only weaken the Indian armed forces but also make hill youths poorer financially as all ousted from army will not be able to get jobs in para- military forces.
“We have over 1 lakh youths serving in armed forces and 1.5 lakh ex army pensioners in Uttatakhand state but this figure will gradually go down after launch of “Agnipath” scheme of four years stint in Army, .” said Bhandari.
According to the local economists, the recruitment in army had changed the entire fortunes of hill people after the First World war.” The people of hill region started getting recruited into army enmass from World War First that continued till Second World war and thereafter, which brought financial well being and security to the people of the hills who had only indulged in bartar economy before army stepped in,” said Dr Lalit Pant, a local economist and retired teacher of economics from local college
“In hill villages, getting recruitment into army, changes the fortune of the entire family as it gets respite from hard agricultural work, receive good medical facilities and guaranteed pension after retirement ,” said Pant.
He further said that in the absence of any industry large, small or micro, the youth of hills have only option to get recruited into armed forces to live a better life. But with the introduction of the new “Agnipath” scheme, it would not be the same again, “ he added.