Upholding the validity of the Agnipath scheme, Delhi High Court says it has been introduced in national interest

In July 2022, the Supreme Court made the Delhi High Court the core forum to examine the question of legality of the Agnipath scheme

Updated - February 27, 2023 08:59 pm IST

Published - February 27, 2023 08:56 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of Delhi High Court

A view of Delhi High Court | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Delhi High Court on Monday upheld the validity of Agnipath scheme launched by the Union government for recruitment in the Armed Forces. The court dismissed a bunch of petitions challenging the scheme, and said that the scheme has been introduced in the national interest. 

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad maintained that from the perusal of material on record, the Agnipath scheme is a well thought out policy decision of the Government of India.

“We have extensively gone through the Agnipath Scheme, and can conclusively state that this Scheme was made in national interest, to ensure that the Armed Forces are better equipped,” the court said.

Responding to the petitions that have challenged the constitutional validity of the scheme, the court said “it’s needless to state the four years’ training period under the scheme would also instil a sense of nationalism in the recruits”, which would “more or less prompt them to use their skills and focus on the development of the country”.

“Such advantages cannot be overlooked and dislodged on the basis of the apprehension that after four years such individuals may be unemployed or may take to illegal or unethical activities...,” the court said.

Besides pleas challenging the Agnipath scheme, the court also dismissed petitions relating to the recruitment process for the Armed Forces under certain previous advertisements, while clarifying that such candidates do not have the right to seek recruitment.

“The petitioners have no vested right to claim that the recruitment under the 2019 Notification and CEE Examination needs to be completed. Furthermore, both promissory estoppel and legitimate expectation cannot be applied in the instant case to force the Government to complete the recruitment keeping in mind larger public interest,” the court said.

On the matter of pension for the Agniveers, the court said that the petitioners had failed to realise the Indian government had not made it mandatory for youth to serve in the Armed Forces, as many nations do.

The court also found no merit in the argument that the government had failed to make provide for the meaningful employment of Agniveers in the future.

“The Government has in fact sought to extend entrepreneurship financial schemes such as MUDRA and Start-Up India to Agniveers as well…..” the court maintained.

The court also said that rather than focusing on the alleged political motives of the Agnipath scheme, it was necessary to focus on the benefits provided by it.

“….the Scheme would, therefore, benefit in the growth and betterment of an individual which will only help in the growth and betterment of the nation. It is through this prism that one must assess the Impugned Scheme,” the court added. 

In July 2022, the Supreme Court made the Delhi High Court the core forum to examine the question of legality of the Agnipath scheme, noting that multiple efforts to litigate were “neither desirable nor proper”. This has meant that the Delhi High Court is currently seized of several petitions against the scheme.

The court had reserved its verdict on the batch of pleas on December 15, 2022.

The Centre has defended the Agnipath scheme, saying that its biggest aim was to enhance the youthful profile of the Armed Forces and reduce the average age of soldiers from 32 years to 26 years over a period of time.

With the introduction of scheme, the ‘leader to led’ ratio will become 1:1 from the current ratio of 1:1.28, the Centre has said.

The government also told the court that the impugned scheme is the result of various studies and deliberations such as the Kargil Review Committee, which proposed the retention of soldiers for a shorter duration of time as opposed to the existing structure of 15 to 20 years. The military intake and retention models of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and France were considered by experts to analyse the efficiency and organisational benefits of short-term military service.  

The Agnipath scheme, unveiled on June 14, 2022, lays out rules for the recruitment of youth in the Armed Forces.

According to these rules, those between 17-and-a-half and 21 years of age are eligible to apply and they would be inducted for a four-year tenure. The scheme allows 25% of those recruited to be absorbed for 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.

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