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Court passed the order in a batch of petitions challenging the "Agnipath Recruitment Scheme" launched for the Agniveers in armed forces.
The Delhi High Court on Monday "dismissed" all the petitions challenging the Centre's "Agnipath Recruitment Scheme" for the recruitment of Agniveers in the armed forces.
While upholding the "Agnipath Scheme", a division bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad said, "This court does not find any reason to interfere".
The court passed the order in a batch of petitions challenging the Agnipath Recruitment Scheme launched for armed forces.
It is to be noted on December 15, 2022, the division bench had reserved orders after hearing the contentions of the petitioners and the central government.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati had appeared for Central Government and contended that more than 10 lakh aspirants have been given the age relaxation benefit. She had stated that the “Agnipath Scheme” is a major paradigm shift in the recruitment process of defence personnel and said, “We can’t put everything on the affidavit but we can say that we acted bonafide in the matter”.
The ASG had submitted that no prejudice had been caused to any of the candidates who participated in the earlier recruitment process and that the recruitment in the ‘armed forces’ is completely different, as it constitutes an essential sovereign function, which directly relates to the maintenance of national security.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan had appeared for one of the petitioners and argued that the decision made by the government was “arbitrary” and “unfair”, and that there was no real reason behind the decision. He had argued that the candidates whose names were on the selected list had been forced to wait for two and a half years.
The center through its affidavit had informed the bench that there is no legal flaw in the scheme for the armed forces and it falls within the realm of 'sovereign policy-making functions' of the Central Government and is directly related to the maintenance of national security. It had pointed out that an analysis of the existing structure of the armed forces below officer rank divisions revealed that the average age of the Indian Armed Forces personnel was 32 years, and this contrasted starkly with the global position of armies, which revealed that the average age of Armed Forces worldwide was 26 years.
It had also stated that to restructure the 'intake and retention' processes in the three Services (Indian Navy, Army, and Air Force) in order to evolve a youthful, modern, and futuristic fighting force, the Central Government promulgated the current policy, dubbed "Agnipath," with the goal of having a young combat force that is physically and mentally capable of meeting the new challenges anticipated by experts.
The Centre had told the high court that the ‘Agnipath Scheme’ is a “merit-based, transparent and robust assessment process” that has evolved with the aim of ensuring that the organization gets the best to serve as a regular cadre. It gives all willing personnel enrolled in the scheme a “fair chance” to compete for the regular cadre.
The affidavit had stated that it is hoped that the system will lead to physically fit, motivated, disciplined, and skilled personnel being returned to Indian society for their contributions in all walks of life. The government had asserted that in an effort to keep the armed forces fit and combat-ready for future exigencies and technological advancements, defence experts suggested reformation in the armed forces' organizational setup to achieve the golden thumb rule, "The Armed Forces must be young and fit at all times."
The affidavit had also clarified that the Agnipath scheme is not linked to the ‘right-sizing’ of the Army and that an independent study on manpower optimization is underway. It further clarifies that the scheme’s goal and objective are to increase the Army's youthful age profile and provide opportunities for patriotic youth from across the country to serve the country. Thus, the challenge to the scheme is legally untenable and liable to be dismissed.
The Central government had further stated that the contention advanced by some of the petitioners in the current batch that the implementation of the Agnipath scheme without any amendment to the Army Act is “bad and void in the eyes of the law” is again “misconceived” and “untenable” in law.
On July 19, a Supreme Court bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and AS Bopanna transferred the plea(s) challenging the Agnipath scheme and seeking continuation of recruitment for the forces to the Delhi High Court.
The Top Court had then observed that it would be appropriate if it gets a view of the High Court in this regard.
It was further observed by the Top Court that pleas challenging the validity of the Agnipath scheme or directions to center/armed forces to complete the recruitment process was initiated earlier and that Kerala, Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, Patna, and Uttarakhand High Courts are hearing the matters and proceedings have been initiated before Armed Forces Tribunal, Kochi.
Accordingly, the Top Court was of the view that a multiplicity of petitions on the subject will not be desirable or proper.
The Agnipath scheme provides for the recruitment of youths in the defence forces Army between the age of 17-and-a-half and 21 for four years with a provision to retain 25 percent of them for 15 more years.
Case Title: Harsh Ajay Singh v. Union of India & Ors. (a batch of petitions)
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