Agnipath Scheme: ‘The scheme is not arbitrary,’ says Supreme Court

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Today, the Supreme Court of India dismissed the appeals challenging the Delhi High Court’s order upholding the Agnipath Scheme. The rejected petitions seek directions to complete the recruitment processes which were discontinued after the announcement of the Agnipath Scheme in 2022. According to this scheme, only those who are between 17-and-a-half and 23 years of age were eligible to apply for the armed forces for a tenure of four years. While rejecting the petitions, the bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud stated that “the scheme is not arbitrary” and candidates selected before the introduction of the Agnipath Scheme were not vested right to appointment. The bench also argued on the matter that the ‘doctrine of promissory estoppel’ will apply. CJI observed that “There is nothing for us to interfere with. It is a matter of public employment, not a contract.”

During the hearing, Advocate appearing for the petitioners, Arunava Mukherjee, stated that he was not against the Agnipath scheme and highlighted the matter confined to the competition of previously notified recruitment processes to the Army and Air Force. He further submitted that exams were postponed many times due to COVID by the Union Government and suddenly, Agnipath Scheme was introduced in 2022. Moreover, he also highlighted that the exams were only postponed not canceled. To this CJI DY Chandrachud orally opined that “So the process which began earlier physical and medical test happened but entrance test didn’t happen. And when the new scheme came, they decide not to go ahead with this at all… But there is no vested right ultimately.”

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Further, the Additional Solicitor General appearing for Union Government, Aishwarya Bhati, opined that “During Covid time, there were all kinds of issues- these were extraordinary times institutions were dealing with. It’s not a process of pick and choose. We had to fill the vacancies in the interest of defence and national interest.” He further asserted that “The exigencies required us o modulate the recruitments in this manner.” Following this, Advocate Prashant Bhushan (appearing for another matter) argued that candidates went through the entire process, yet they were not recruited. He also added that “Three years they have been waiting and waiting.” 

Hearing the matter, CJI said to Bhushan, “Frankly, Mr. Bhushan, there is no vested right here. It’s not arbitrary in the circumstances.” Further, CJI agreed to hear Bhushan’s case separately on his request on April 17, 2023. The other petitions mentioned above were dismissed by the top Court.

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