Average age of below rank armed forces in India higher than global average, Agnipath scheme seeks to evolve young combat force: Centre to HC

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Centre has stated that the goal of the Agnipath scheme is to evolve a young combat force that is physically and mentally capable of meeting the new challenges anticipated by experts

Responding to a batch of petitions challenging the ‘Agnipath Recruitment Scheme’, the Centre through its affidavit has informed the Delhi High Court 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, is directly related to the maintenance of national security.

The Central Government has 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 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 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 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 Central Government has stated that “given the peculiar border situation, the constant threats and attempts to infiltrate the said borders by hostile neighboring countries and non-state actors, India requires a unique force capable of dealing with hostility, infiltrations, proxy war, and external aggressions to keep our borders safe.”

“The character of future wars/military engagement, in the opinion of military experts, is likely to be ambiguous, uncertain, short, swift, lethal, intense, precise, non-linear, unrestricted, unpredictable, and hybrid. These challenges would be exacerbated by the inherent nature of terrain along our borders which ranges from the Rann swampy marshes, jungles, deserts, riverine, hills, high altitude, mountains, and glaciated regions, as well as isolated island territories. Defending such territory from external and internal threats requires agile, youthful, and technologically adept Armed Forces. The men and women serving the Armed Forces thus need to be physically fit, and mentally alert and should possess high risk-taking abilities. Experience has revealed that these abilities are accentuated in combative formations which are 'young',” Centre’s affidavit stated.

The government 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 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 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.

The Agnipath scheme provides for the recruitment of youths in the defense 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.

On August 25, the High Court granted four weeks to the Centre for filing a detailed reply in the batch of pleas that have challenged the Agnipath Recruitment Scheme. Earlier, 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 Batch of pleas challenging the Agnipath Scheme are listed before the High Court on Wednesday i.e. October 19, 2022.