Agnipath Recruitment Scheme
Harsh Ajay Singh v Union of India
The Supreme Court will hear petitions challenging the Agnipath Recruitment Scheme for the armed forces. The scheme was announced by the Union on June 14th 2022.
Petitioner: M.L. Sharma; Vishal Tiwari; Harsh Ajay Singh
Respondent: Union of India
Case Number: WP(C) 457/2022
Last Updated: May 29, 2023
Whether an SIT should be constituted to investigate the violence and destruction of property during the protests?
Whether a judicial committee should be constituted to examine the Agnipath scheme?
Whether parliamentary approval was necessary to implement the Agnipath scheme?
Whether the Union should re-examine the Agnipath scheme?
On June 14th 2022, the Union Government announced the new ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme for the armed forces. The scheme is aimed at recruiting young candidates between the ages of 17 and 23 to serve in the armed forces for a period of four years. The upper age limit was later increased from 21 to 23 for 2022 as recruitment came to a halt during the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who have been recruited through the scheme are called ‘Agniveers’.
As per the Scheme, when the 4-year period concludes, 25% of the recruits will be selected for permanent enrollment. The rest will receive a one-time payment of ₹11.71 Lakh at the completion of the 4 year period. However, the fund from which this payment is made partially draws from the monthly salaries of the Agniveers. Further, the scheme includes life insurance of ₹48 Lakh during their service and an ex-gratia payment of ₹44 Lakhs to the families of those who died in service.
If implemented, the Agnipath scheme will be the sole route for recruitment into the armed forces. The scheme does not include pension benefits for the Agniveers. Many argue that the policy has been designed to cut rising pension costs.
Protests against the Agnipath scheme erupted across the country by armed forces aspirants in the days following its announcement on June 14th. These protests first turned violent in several districts in Bihar on June 16th, with reports of clashes with police, trains and vehicles being burnt and elected officials being violently accosted. On June 19th it was reported that nearly 500 train services were cancelled due to the protests.
Detractors have noted that the announcement of the scheme was surprising and blindsided the country. On June 16th, Opposition parties called for it to be put on hold until discussions in Parliament may take place. Former Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, stated in a press conference on the same day that the scheme would compromise national security and retired defence officers ‘unanimously oppose’ the scheme. Former army officers have pointed out that there was no test or pilot project conducted to assess the on-the-ground effects such a scheme would have.
The Union government has stated that the scheme will reduce the overall average age of the armed forces and introduce technologically proficient youth into the armed forces. The savings on salary and pension costs will allow for military modernisation by introducing cutting edge technology. The Union has further clarified that Agniveers will receive priority in bank loan schemes, a Class 12 certificate, a bridging course for further studies and an easier path to employment in many sectors (such as IT, Security Services and Engineering).
Three separate Public Interest Litigation (PIL) suits have been filed in the Supreme Court. On June 18th 2022, advocate Vishal Tiwari submitted a PIL requesting the SC to constitute a judicial committee to examine the Agnipath scheme, along with a Special Investigation Team to enquire into the violence and destruction of property that accompanied the protests.
On June 20th 2022, advocate M.L. Sharma filed a PIL arguing that the Agnipath scheme is unconstitutional and did not receive parliamentary approval beforehand. On the same day, advocate Harsh Ajay Singh filed a PIL requesting the Court to issue directions to the Union for the reconsideration of Agnipath.
On June 21st 2022, a Vacation Bench comprising Justices C.T. Ravikumar and Sudhanshu Dhulia stated that the PILs filed by Mr. Tiwari and Mr. Singh would be placed before the Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana who will decide whether to list the case.
On July 19th 2022, a 3-Judge Bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and A.S. Bopanna transferred all pending petitions challenging Agnipath across High Courts to the Delhi High Court. The Bench stated that the Delhi HC would be able to swiftly decide the matter. Further they emphasised that the High Courts’ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution ‘must not lose significance’.
On February 27th, 2023 the Delhi High Court dismissed all the challenges to the Agnipath recruitment scheme, stating it served national interests and ensured the Armed Forces were better equipped.