NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Monday upheld the constitutional validity of the Union government's Agnipath scheme for short term recruitment to armed forces, saying it was introduced in national interest to ensure that the country's forces are better equipped and consists of more youthful, agile, and physically adept individuals.
A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Subramonium Prasad said the court finds no reason to interfere with the policy decision in view of the stated objective of the government, which is "neither discriminatory nor mala fide, or arbitrary".
The court dismissed a batch of petitions against the scheme and also rejected a plea to stop the recruitment process.
"The policy decisions, particularly those which have wide-ranging implications on the nation's health and security, should be decided by bodies best suited to do so. It appears that the government has been considering, for a long time, the possibility of creating an Armed Forces which consists of more youthful, agile, and physically adept individuals," the bench said.
"Upon considering the opinions of experts bodies, defence personnel, and carefully studying the models adopted by other nations, it has decided to finally replace the prior mode of recruitment with the recruitment envisaged by the Agnipath Scheme," the bench added.
The Ministry of Defence had announced the scheme by a notification issued on June 15, 2022.
Massive protests had broken out in several parts of the country, after the announcement of the scheme, related to recruitment of candidates between 17.5--21 years in armed forces for a four-year period.
Dealing with the batch of petitions, the court noted that the scheme is a recruitment-generation scheme which will satisfy a large number of unemployed Indian youth and 25% of the Agniveers will be allowed to continue in the Armed Forces beyond the period of four years.
"This has been done by the Government in order to meet the objective of creating an Armed Force which is agile, youthful, physically fit, and mentally alert. This will bring the Indian Armed Forces in line with nations such as the inter alia United States, United Kingdom, and France," it said.
The bench said in view of the laudable objective of maintaining national security is at the heart of the Scheme, this court does not find it arbitrary, capricious or devoid of reason.
During the period of four years, the Agniveers would be given training, including weapon training etc., and they would also be placed at various sectors/avenues. On completion of four years they would be given appropriate certificates for the experience they have gained while working as Agniveers. 25% of the selected candidates will also be appointed in the regular Army Cadre and out of the rest 75% Agniveers who would not be able to make it to the regular Army Cadre, many of them can be absorbed in Paramilitary Forces, and further with various skill certificates, Agniveers will be in a better position to gain meaningful employment in the avenues in which they possess a skill certificate, the court said.
"Needless to state that four years training period would also instil a sense of nationalism in these personnel that 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 the mere apprehension that they may take to illegal or unethical activities, after being trained in the Army. This impugned Scheme cannot be interfered with by this Court only on the basis of such apprehensions and bald averments," the bench added.
The court also rejected contentions by the petitioners that the Agniveers would not get any pension which is granted to soldiers in other nations, by saying the principal distinction between nations such as Israel, which have deployed such a policy, and India, is that the Indian Government has not made it mandatory for the youth of the nation to serve in the Armed forces.
The court did not find force in contention of the petitioners that the Agniveers would not have sufficient employment avenues in future.
"The Government has in fact sought to extend entrepreneurship financial schemes such as MUDRA and Start-Up India to Agniveers as well. Furthermore, the Government has avowed to give Agniveers priority in government organisations; 10% reservation has been made for Agniveers in the Department of CAPF under the Ministry of Home Affairs, 10% in all the Departments under the Ministry of Defence, and 5% in all the Departments under the Railways. Material on record also discloses that the Impugned Scheme will not only provide opportunity for youth to serve the country but will also result in the Armed Forces having the most capable individuals who will be rewarded with a decent financial package and a bright future," the bench said.