The Desk

Agnipath at the SC: Plea Seeks SIT Probe Into Violence

In light of the widespread violence during the Agnipath Scheme protests, a PIL has been filed before the SC seeking an SIT probe

Agnipath Background

Riots raged across large parts of India as disgruntled Armed Forces aspirants took to the streets against the Agnipath defence recruitment scheme. Trains were torched and angry crowds armed with brickbats and stones rampaged across railway lines and highways. The resultant violence, which includes reports of arson, has affected over 600 trains across several states. On June 18th 2022, advocate VIshal Tiwari filed a Public Interest Litigation petition at the Supreme Court seeking the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to inquire into the violence and destruction of public property.

On June 14th, the Central Government announced the ‘Agnipath’ scheme to recruit young Indians into the Armed Forces. The recruitment is restricted to candidates between the ages of 17-and-a-half years to 21 years, later extended to 23 in 2022 to address delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The scheme allows 46,000 young candidates to serve in the Armed Forces for a period of four years. At the end of this period, upto 25% of the recruits, based on merit and requirement, will be selected for enrollment as permanent cadre. Critics of the scheme argue that it does not provide job security and that the ‘Agniveers’ will not receive pension benefits. The protestors claimed that enrollment through the Scheme was akin to being hired on a contractual basis.

The protests that started following the announcement of the Scheme rapidly got out of hand resulting in thousands of security personnel being deployed across the country. Many looked to the Supreme Court to bring an end to the violence.

How did the matter reach the Supreme Court?

On June 18th , Advocate Vishal Tiwari filed a PIL before the Supreme Court seeking a Special Investigation Team probe into the widespread violence and damage to public property caused during the protests. The plea also sought direction from the Centre and from riot hit States to submit a Status Report on the violence caused by the protests.

The present petition, along with two others filed later, also challenges the validity of the Scheme. It contends that the four years of service offered by the Agnipath Scheme and the lack of pension benefits is unreasonable. Therefore, Mr. Tiwari sought the constitution of a separate expert committee headed by a retired SC Judge to examine the Agnipath scheme and its impact on national security.

What is an SIT?

Special Investigation Teams are specialised teams of officers of Indian law enforcement. SITs can be formed by the Supreme Court of India, or by the Central or State governments. They are formed to investigate serious crimes when existing investigative agencies are not perceived to be able to conduct a proper investigation. 

SITs are often given special powers, similar to police powers, to ensure thorough investigations. Since the right to fair investigation is a fundamental right and a principle of natural justice, it is important to keep SITs free from Executive interference.

The constitution of SITs to investigate allegations of violence in protests is not new. Previously, SITs have been formed to look into the Bhima Koregaon case and into the Gujarat Riots case.

The Road Ahead

On June 21st 2022, a vacation Bench, consisting of Justices C.T. Ravikumar and Sudhanshu Dhulia, said that the plea seeking an SIT probe into the violence will be listed only after Chief Justice Ramana took a call on the matter. As the Supreme Court is currently on summer vacation, the established practice is to take on only ‘urgent’ matters during this period.