TRAINS went up in flames, and public and private vehicles attacked, railway stations and highways turned into battleground in many States on Friday amid burgeoning protests against ‘Agnipath’, the defence recruitment scheme while a man was shot dead in police firing in Telangana’s Secunderabad .
Assurances by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah and the Army chief failed to cut ice with hordes of angry youth, carrying bamboo sticks and stones, storming railway premises across cities and small towns and laying siege to highways, creating a security scare.
Over 300 trains have been affected and more than 200 cancelled so far due to the protests, the Railways said, reflecting the enormity of the agitation.
Coaches of seven trains have so far been set ablaze by protesters, officials said, adding that carriages of three running trains in the East Central Railway (ECR), headquartered in Bihar’s Hajipur, and one empty rake in Kulharia, also in the same zone, were damaged by protesters.
One coach of a train was also damaged in the washing line at Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia. So far, 64 trains were short terminated in ECR.
As the depredations against the recruitment scheme continued for the third day across large parts of India, from Uttar Pradesh to Telangana and Bihar to Madhya Pradesh, Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and Army chief General Manoj Pande tried to assuage the concerns of the agitators with little success.
The Army chief said that the Government’s Thursday night decision to raise the upper age limit to 23 years from 21 under the scheme in 2022 will provide an opportunity to youths who were preparing to join the force but couldn’t in the last two years.
The Centre’s decision to increase the upper age limit will benefit a large number of youth, Shah said.
But the protests spread, seemingly uncontrolled, with crowds squatting on tracks and highways, pelting trains and buses with stones, toppling vending kiosks at train stations and burning used tyres on tracks.
Fiery orange flames leapt out of the windows of trains at Secunderabad, and Lakhisarai and Samastipur in Bihar, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the sky that could be seen from several kilometres away.
Broken tubelights, benches and stones littered several railway stations across the country. Policemen in anti-riot gear were seen chasing away the protesters, hundreds of whom were rounded up. Demonstrators also blocked highways at several places in Buxar, Bhagalpur and Samastipur with burnt tyres. Besides targeting railway properties, the protesters attacked the house of Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi and the car of a BJP MLA in Bihar. State BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal’s residence in Bettiah town was also vandalised but the leader claimed the attackers were not job aspirants.
One person was fatally injured when Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel fired to disperse the rampaging protesters at Secunderabad station.
The injured are being treated in the State-run Gandhi Hospital.
The scenes of chaos unfolded in Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia, Varanasi, Firozabad and Amethi, causing damage to Government buses and other symbols of public property.
Madhya Pradesh’s commercial capital Indore, Haryana’s Narwana and many places in West Bengal and Jharkhand witnessed protests.
The Haryana Government has suspended mobile Internet and SMS services for 24 hours in Ballabhgarh area of Faridabad district as a precautionary measure. Protests also broke out in Hisar, Fatehabad and Jhajjar in Haryana.