Friday, September 29, 2023

Supreme Court rejects pleas challenging Agnipath recruitment scheme

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The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the petitions seeking directions to complete the recruitment processes initiated for the Indian Army and the Air Force, which were discontinued after the Agnipath scheme was announced in June 2022.

The pleas challenged the Delhi High Court verdict, which upheld the Agnipath scheme. The recruitment scheme made Indians between the age of 17-and-a-half and 23 eligible to apply for armed forces to be inducted for a four-year tenure.

The Bench of Chief Justice of Justice (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice P.S. Narasimha and Justice J.B. Pardiwala disposed of the petitions on the grounds that the candidates had no vested right to seek the completion of recruitment process. 

It observed that the decision not to proceed with the previous recruitment processes could not be termed as arbitrary, noting that promissory estoppel would not apply when larger public interest was involved.

The Apex Court noted that since it was a matter of public employment and not a contract, the Apex Court could not interfere. 

Appearing for the petitioners, Advocate Arunava Mukherjee clarified at the outset that he was not challenging the scheme and that the matter was confined to the completion of previously notified recruitment processes to the Army and the Air Force.

The lawyer contended that the Union Government postponed the exams many times citing the Covid-19 pandemic and suddenly in June, the Agnipath scheme was announced. 

Advocate Mukherjee contended that the exams were held for the Air Force but the results were not published, added the Counsel. He highlighted that the exams were never cancelled and only postponed.

The CJI orally observed during the hearing that the process had begun earlier. Both physical and medical tests were held, but entrance tests were not conducted. When the new scheme came, they decided not to go ahead with this at all, however, there was no vested right ultimately.

The lawyer requested that the Agnipath scheme would not be affected, even if the petitioners were inducted.

Representing the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati apprised the Apex Court that the issues had already been dealt with in detail by the Delhi High Court. 

She contended that during the Covid-19 pandemic, there were all kinds of issues – these were extraordinary times the institutions were dealing with. It was not a process of pick and choose. The Union of India had to fill the vacancies in the interest of Defence and national interest.

She added that the exigencies required the Central government to modulate the recruitments in this manner.

Appearing in another matter, Advocate Prashant Bhushan submitted that the petitioners were placed in the provisional list for Air Force after undergoing several test processes. 

For one year, they kept saying appointment letters will be issued but the same were postponed. The candidates went through the entire process and were still not recruited. Imagine the plight of these people, who have been waiting for the past three years, he added. 

As per Bhushan, the doctrine of ‘promissory estoppel’ would get attracted in these circumstances.

The CJI then noted that there was no vested right here and that it was not arbitrary in the circumstances. 

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