Agnipath scheme is voluntary, those having problem should not join: Delhi HC

The petitioners challenged the Agnipath scheme alleging violation of rights, cost-cutting, and recruitment under previous advertisements.

Agnipath scheme is voluntary, those having problem should not join: Delhi HC Agnipath Scheme. (Picture: Shutterstock)
Press Trust of India | Dec 12, 2022 - 9:12 p.m. IST
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NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Monday asked the petitioners who have challenged the Centre's Agnipath scheme as to which of their rights have been violated and said it was voluntary and those having any problem should not join the armed forces under it.

The high court said the Agnipath scheme has been formed by experts in Army, Navy and Air Force and judges were not military experts. “What is wrong in the scheme? It is not compulsory….To be frank, we are not military experts. You (petitioners) and me are not experts. It has been framed after great efforts by experts in Army, Navy and Indian Air Force. "There is a particular policy that the government has framed. It is not compulsory, it is voluntary,” a bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad said.

The bench further said, “You have to show us that a right is taken away…. Don’t join then. There is no compulsion. If you are good you will be absorbed thereafter (after 4 years). Are we the persons to decide it (service in the scheme) should be made four years or five years or seven years”. The high court was hearing a batch of pleas challenging the Centre's Agnipath scheme.

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During the hearing, advocate Kumud Lata Das, representing one of the petitioners Harsh Ajay Singh, said after being recruited under the scheme, the Agniveers will have life insurance of Rs 48 Lakh in case of contingency which is much less than the existing one. Whatever the armed forces personnel are entitled to, these Agniveers will get them only for four years, the counsel argued, adding that if the service would have been for five years, they would have been entitled to gratuity.

The counsel contended that after four years of service, only 25 per cent of the Agniveers will be considered for being retained in the force and there is no backup plan for the rest of the 75 percent. On the contention that this scheme has been formed in this way as it is a cost-cutting exercise of authorities, the bench asked where do the forces mention that it is a cost-cutting exercise. “Where do they state it is a cost-cutting exercise? You want us to infer that it is a cost-cutting exercise? Unless they state so, you statement is of no consequence,” Justice Prasad said.

The bench said that a person is getting a chance to join the armed forces at the age of 17-and-a-half years, “is it not good enough”. "Is it not a pure domain of policy? Why should we strike down the scheme as bad,” the bench asked. Another petitioner, who was arguing in person, said he has retired from the Indian Army and now practicing as a lawyer. He said the authorities should be asked to reconsider the Agnipath scheme as the six months of training to be imparted to agniveers is not enough and it is a very short time and it is not easy to get trained.

He claimed that this way the authorities would be compromising national security and that the quality of personnel will be affected. When Justice Prasad said “Don’t join it then”. Advocate Ankur Chhibber, representing another petitioner who has filed a petition concerning the recruitment processes for the armed forces under certain previous advertisements, said in the four years of service a sense of belonging would be absent in personnel.

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As the bench sought the Centre to clarify this, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati submitted that she would take instructions on this aspect and inform the bench on the next date of hearing on December 14. After concluding hearing arguments on pleas directly challenging the Agnipath Scheme, the bench will decide those petitions concerning the recruitment processes for the armed forces under certain previous advertisements.

Recruitment through Agnipath 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".

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 of age are eligible to apply and they would be inducted for a four-year tenure. The scheme allows 25 per cent of them to 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.

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