Agnipath Recruitment Scheme #1: SC Transfers Challenges to Delhi HC

Agnipath Recruitment Scheme

Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and P.S. Narasimha transferred all challenges to the Union government’s Agnipath scheme for army recruitments to the Delhi High Court on July 19th, 2022. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the Court that In addition to three challenges at the Supreme Court (SC), multiple challenges to the controversial scheme are pending before the Delhi, Kerala, Patna, Punjab and Haryana and Uttarakhand High Courts. 

The scheme aims to recruit young candidates between the ages of 17 and 23 to serve in the armed forces for a period of four years. Once that 4-year period concludes, only 25% of the recruits will be selected for permanent enrollment. The rest will receive a one-time payment of ₹11.71 Lakhs at the end of 4  years, drawing partially from their monthly salaries.

If implemented, the Agnipath scheme will be the sole route for recruitment into the armed forces. Currently, the scheme does not include pension benefits for the Agniveers.

SG Mehta Suggests Clubbing All Cases Under One Court, Petitioners Suggest SC Should Hear all Challenges

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Union government, opened the hearing—he informed the Court that multiple petitions on the same issue were pending in various forums. It would be wise to let one body hear the whole set to avoid contradictory Orders. 

Advocates Kumud Lata and M.L. Sharma, challenging the Scheme, submitted that the Court was confronted with a ‘pan-India’ problem. Since the scheme affected citizens all over the country, it would be appropriate for the Supreme Court to deal with the case. An SC Judgment would bring some finality to the matter. 

Mr. Prashant Bhushan, representing the challenger at the Delhi HC, informed the Court that all the petitions at the High Court did not challenge the constitutionality of the Scheme itself. Some petitions, like his at the High Court, sought that old rules should apply for those recruitments announced before the Agnipath Scheme but were yet to be completed. 

SC Transfers Petitions to Delhi High Court—‘Considered View of High Court’ Useful Before SC Hears the Matter

Justice Chandrachud emphasised that the Article 32 right to approach the Supreme Court for fundamental rights violations cannot overtake Article 226, which empowers the High Courts to deal with such cases as well. Amidst vehement protests from the lawyers challenging the scheme, he stated that it would be improper to transfer all cases to the SC at this time. 

Justice Chandrachud further stated that even though some HC petitions raised distinct issues, many issues overlapped with the petitions before the SC. He mentioned in his Order that the SC must have the ‘benefit of a considered view’ from the HCs before it decides the case. 

The Bench, accordingly, transferred all three SC petitions to the Delhi High Court. Further, it directed all other High Courts to allow the petitioners before them to withdraw their petitions and join the Delhi HC proceedings as intervenors. 

The Judges and the lawyers involved in the case seem to expect an appeal of the Delhi HC’s decision, whichever way it goes, at the SC.