Delhi HC to hear pleas challenging Centre's Agnipath Scheme on November 18

A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad granted two weeks' time to the petitioners to respond to the Centre's stand on the matter.

PTIUpdated: Wednesday, October 19, 2022, 04:59 PM IST
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Delhi HC to hear pleas challenging Centre's Agnipath Scheme on November 18 | Photo: Arun Sankar/AFP

The Delhi High Court Wednesday listed for hearing on November 18 several pleas challenging the Centre's Agnipath scheme for recruitment in the armed forces.

A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad granted two weeks' time to the petitioners to respond to the Centre's stand on the matter.

In a "consolidated" reply filed in response to several petitions against the Agnipath scheme as well as those concerning the recruitment processes for the armed forces under certain previous advertisements, the Central government has there is no legal infirmity in the scheme.

The government submitted the Agnipath scheme was introduced in exercise of its sovereign function to make national security and defence more "robust, "impenetrable" and "abreast with changing military requirement".

"Reply has been filed by the Union of India. Petitioner prays for time to file rejoinder. Petitioners are granted 2 weeks' time," said the court.

The Agnipath scheme, unveiled on June 14, lays out rules for the recruitment of youths in the armed forces. According to these rules, those between 17-and-a-half and 21 years are eligible to apply and they would be inducted for a four-year tenure, and 25 per cent of them will be granted regular service subsequently. After the scheme was unveiled, protests erupted in several states against the scheme.

Later, the government extended the upper age limit to 23 years for recruitment in 2022.

On Wednesday, the counsel for one of the parties informed the court that there are two categories of cases concerning the Agnipath scheme -- one that assails the scheme while the others pertain to recruitment in the armed forces under certain earlier advertisements -- and they should be heard separately.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted that all the cases are essentially against the scheme and some "additionally" raise the issue of right to appointment under earlier advertisements, and, therefore, all the cases must be heard together.

The court, during the hearing, also questioned the petitioners if any right with respect to appointment was created in their favour on account of their participation in the recruitment process.

"Employer has the right to curb process at any time. There is a Supreme Court judgement. What is the right created?," asked the court.

One of the petitions before the high court has sought a direction to the armed forces to resume the recruitment process which have been cancelled due to the introduction of the Agnipath scheme and prepare the final merit list after conducting a written examination within a stipulated time.

A petitioner, named Rahul, has submitted he had applied for the post of soldier (general duty) and his physical and medical examinations were conducted which he cleared successfully, and was waiting for the written examination.

However, he said, he found on the official website that consequent to the implementation of the Agnipath scheme, the ministry has stopped and cancelled all pending processes including the Common Entrance Examination (CEE) of Indian Army recruitment for the previous recruiting years.

He said there were several candidates like him who applied for other posts in the armed forces but their respective processes were also cancelled. Another petition, seeking that the recruitment process in the Indian Air Force as per a 2019 notification be completed without being affected by the scheme, is also pending in the high court.

Besides the pleas filed before it, the high court is also hearing those transferred to it.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had asked the high courts of Kerala, Punjab and Haryana, Patna and Uttarakhand to transfer the PILs against the Agnipath scheme pending before them to the Delhi High Court or keep it pending till a decision from the Delhi High Court is delivered, if the petitioners before it so desire.

Three petitions on Agnipath Scheme before the apex court were also sent to the high court.

The petitions before the Supreme Court have sought a direction to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the damage to public properties, including that of the Railways, during the violent protests against the scheme.

Lawyer ML Sharma, who has alos filed a petition, has sought the cancellation of the government's notification about the Agnipath scheme, saying more than 70,000 aspirants who have undergone training were awaiting their appointment letters before the pandemic and now their careers have been shortened by the scheme.

The Centre, in its reply, has stated that defending the Indian territory, which has a "peculiar border situation", from external and internal threats requires agile, youthful and technologically adept armed forces, and the Agnipath scheme aims to reduce the average age profile of soldiers from the present 32 years to 26 years.

Recruitment through the Agnipath scheme, the Central government has added, involves a "merit based, transparent and robust assessment process" and a fair opportunity would be provided to all willing personnel to compete for regular cadre and ultimately "nationalist, disciplined and skilled manpower would be provided to society and exited Agniveers will be an asset for the nation and society".

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