Agnipath: Supreme Court paves way for Delhi HC’s scrutiny of defence scheme

Published on Jul 19, 2022 07:38 PM IST

The Agnipath scheme was announced by the Centre on June 14 with an aim to give the armed forces a young look by giving people aged 17.5-23 years an opportunity to serve in the defence forces for a short period of four years

The Supreme Court of India. (ANI File Photo)
The Supreme Court of India. (ANI File Photo)
ByAbraham Thomas

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Delhi high court to expeditiously scrutinise the validity of the central government’s new Agnipath scheme for the Indian military, and also asked various high courts hearing similar petitions to not proceed with hearings into the matter till then.

“Let us have the benefit of their (high court) view,” said a bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Surya Kant and AS Bopanna, as it allowed three public interest litigations (PILs) – challenging the defence recruitment scheme offering a four-year service to ‘Agniveers’ in the army, navy and air force – to be transferred to the Delhi HC where several petitions in the same matter are already pending.

The Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, was open to the suggestion and produced a chart showing similar petitions pending before the high courts of Kerala, Patna, Punjab & Haryana, and Uttarakhand.

“In our view, the multiplicity of writ petitions on the same subject will not be desirable or proper,” the SC bench said, as it left it open for petitioners in various high courts to either approach the Delhi HC and file intervention application, or get their matter transferred to Delhi.

Also Read:Centre refutes Opposition’s ‘caste, religion’ allegations over Agnipath scheme

In the event that they availed the second option, the apex court said their matter will stand transferred to the Delhi HC. If they go for the first choice, their original plea before the concerned high court will remain pending till the Delhi HC arrives at a decision.

This rule will apply equally to any fresh petition challenging the scheme filed before any high court, the bench said. “The idea is the petitioners (before various HCs) should be heard. We cannot prevent anybody from filing a petition. It is always better in matters like these that the Supreme Court should have the benefit of a judgment by the high court.”

The petitioners before the top court – Harsh Ajay Singh, advocate ML Sharma and Ravindra Singh Shekhawat – told the SC that it was a pan-India issue and required consideration by the top court. Advocate Kumud Lata Das appearing for Harsh Ajay Singh said, “This is a pan-India problem. Nobody should be stopped from filing petitions. The petitioners also have to travel to the Delhi high court.”

“A pan-India problem does not merit a solution that different high courts should not hear the matter. It doesn’t mean that only Supreme Court should hear. Why should we avoid the process laid down under Article 226?” the bench replied.

Advocate ML Sharma added by saying, “The petition filed by me challenges violation of the Constitution that should be decided by the top court. I should not be sent to the high court as this is not just a challenge to a law or policy.”

Considering the fact that Sharma has been a serial litigant in filing PILs, the bench remarked, “You are a veer (champion) but not an Agniveer.” Instead of allowing the petitioners to withdraw and file fresh pleas in the Delhi high court, the bench directed the Registry to transfer the entire bunch of three PILs to be transferred to the Delhi HC for placing the matter before the appropriate bench as per the administrative direction of the HC Chief Justice.

Directing the high court for “expeditious disposal” after hearing all parties, the court further instructed the Centre to place a copy of this order before the concerned high courts wherever the matter is pending.

The Agnipath scheme was announced by the Centre on June 14 with an aim to give the armed forces a young look by giving people aged 17.5-23 years an opportunity to serve in the defence forces for a short period of four years and retire, with no pension or gratuity. The scheme promised to retain up to 25% of the four-year recruits – called ‘Agniveers’ – while the remaining 75% were to retire with a one-time financial package of approximately 11.71 lakh.

The PIL filed by Harsh Ajay Singh said, “The Agnipath scheme undermines the armed forces’ professionalism, ethos, and fighting spirit and will potentially lead to the militarization of civil society.”

Pointing to the large-scale violence witnessed in the country in opposing the scheme, the PIL stated, “The scheme is facing a country-wide violent protest due to its uncertainty, future insecurity and giving precedence to economy over security.”

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