BHUBANESHWAR/LUCKNOW, India, June 18 (Reuters) – Protesters in the eastern Indian state of Bihar damaged public property and ransacked offices at a railway station on Saturday, expressing outrage over to a new military recruitment plan and demanding that the government reverse course.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has introduced a program called Agnipath or “path of fire” designed to bring more people into the military on four-year contracts to lower the average age of the 1.38 million men of the Indian armed forces.

A senior military general, Lt. Gen. Anil Puri, told NDTV news channel that the aim of the plan was to make the army more modern and efficient.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

Analysts said the new scheme would also help cut booming pension costs, but opponents believe it would limit opportunities for permanent jobs in the Defense Force, with implications for salaries, pensions and other advantages.

Thousands of young men attacked train carriages, burned tires and clashed with officials at a train station in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states.

Authorities canceled 369 trains across the country, many of which passed through areas plagued by unrest.

Sanjay Singh, a senior police official tasked with overseeing law and order in the state, said at least 12 protesters were arrested and at least four police officers injured in clashes.

“About 2,000 to 2,500 people entered Masaurhi station and attacked the forces,” he told Reuters.

In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, police have arrested at least 250 people in what are known as preventive arrests. Some protesters accused the police of using excessive force. One person was killed during protests this week.

‘HUMAN RESOURCES TRANSFORMATION’

In a bid to contain the outrage, the federal government announced concessions on Saturday for those who will serve under the program.

The Federal Ministry of Home Affairs announced that it would reserve 10% of vacancies in the Paramilitary Forces and Assam Rifles, a unit of the Indian Army, for those who left the army after the four-year period prescribed by the program.

The Department of Defense said it would reserve 10% of its vacancies for those who have completed the program.

“Maybe because it’s a new plan, people misunderstood it, but we discussed it with everyone, including ex-servicemen,” Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said on Saturday during of a conference.

The program plans to retain 25% of recruited soldiers after four years of service, with the rest given priority for other jobs, such as in the state police.

The Navy chief said Friday the protests were unexpected and likely the result of misinformation about the new system.

“I hadn’t planned for protests like this,” Admiral R. Hari Kumar told ANI. “This is the biggest transformation of human resource management that has ever taken place in the Indian Army.”

The program is not open to women in combat roles and there are currently no plans to change this.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

Reporting by Jatindra Dash and Saurabh Sharma; Additional reporting and writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Rupam Jain, William Mallard and Christina Fincher

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.