Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: In a batch of 21 petitions filed by the petitioners challenging the constitutional validity of the Agnipath Scheme and registering the grievances of the Petitioners that the impugned Scheme has taken away their rights insofar as they have participated in the recruitment process and many of them have been shortlisted but have not been appointed due to the impugned Scheme. A division bench of Satish Chandra Sharma CJ., and Subramonium Prasad, J., held that the stated objective of the Government is neither discriminatory nor mala fide, or arbitrary, thus, this Court finds no reason to interfere with it. The Court further held that the Petitioners have no vested right to seek recruitment, and the doctrine of promissory estoppel and legitimate expectation find themselves severely restricted by the overarching concerns of public interest.

The Ministry of Defence came up with a scheme for recruitment of personnel below the rank of commissioned officers for the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy (“Indian Armed Forces”) for a period of four years. The recruited soldiers have been titled as ‘Agniveers’.

Issue 1: Whether the Agnipath Scheme is discriminatory and arbitrary and ought to be set aside?

Placing reliance on State of Orissa v. Gopinath Dash, (2005) 13 SCC 495 and State of Maharashtra v. Bhagwan, (2022) 4 SCC 193, the Court noted that unless a policy decision taken by the Government is demonstrably capricious or arbitrary or if it suffers from the vice of discrimination or infringes any statute or provisions of the Constitution, this Court is not to question the propriety of such a policy decision.

The Court further noted that the impugned Scheme, as stated, is a recruitment-generation scheme that will satisfy much unemployed Indian youth and 25% of the Agniveers will be allowed to continue in the Armed Forces beyond the period of 4 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.

Considering the laudable objective of maintaining national security being at the heart of the impugned Scheme, the Court did not hold the scheme to be arbitrary, capricious, or devoid of reason.

Issue 2: Whether the Union’s actions attract the principles of promissory estoppel and legitimate expectation, thereby mandating it to complete the recruitment process under the ‘Common Entrance Examination’ (CEE) and 2019 Notification for the Indian Army and Air Force respectively?

The Court noted that the doctrine of legitimate expectation, which has its genesis in administrative law, is invoked to hold the government accountable and good to its word. This doctrine is invoked if an individual is aggrieved by the alteration of rights or obligations, which deprive such individual of any benefit or advantage and affects such individual adversely.

The Court opined that the doctrine of legitimate expectation cannot come to their rescue as the instructions for candidates published in the Provisional Selection List also stated that “Candidates whose names appear in Provisional Select List are NOT (R) NOT guaranteed enrolment.” Pertinently, the advertisement published for the recruitment to the Air Force also stated that “the terms and conditions given in the advertisement are guidelines only and orders issued by the Government as amended from time to time will apply for the selected candidates.”

Thus, these caveats weigh heavily against the claim of the Petitioners to indicate that the Petitioners cannot claim to have an enforceable right to gain employment. Simply because an individual was successful in the selection process, it does not mean that they have acquired a right to be appointed.

On the aspect of whether the principle of promissory estoppel is applicable to this case, the Court stated that the Court cannot bind the Government to its policy decision, if the same is changed due to overarching concerns of ‘public interest’.

Thus, the Court held that the Agnipath Scheme was made in national interest, to ensure that the Armed Forces are better equipped. Due to this, this Court finds that the Petitioners have no vested right to claim that the recruitment under the 2019 Notification and CEE Examination needs to be completed. Furthermore, both promissory estoppel and legitimate expectation cannot be applied in the instant case to force the Government to complete the recruitment keeping in mind larger public interest.

[Harsh Ajay Singh v Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 1145, decided on 27-02-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case:

Mr. Prashant Bhushan, Ms. Alice Raj, Ms. SuroorMander, Advocates in W.P.(C) 10023/2022 Mr. K N Jayasankar, Ms. Beena Nair, Advocates in W.P.(C) Nos. 13910/2022, 13911/2022, 13913/2022, 15171/2022, 15174/2022. Mr. Ashish Mohan, Mr. Samarth Chaudhary, Advocates in W.P.(C) 10887/2022 Ms. Chhavi Yadav, Mr. Ajit Kakkar, Advocate Mr. Arunava Mukherjee, Advocate in W.P.(C)10422/2022 Ms. Kumud Lata Das, Mr. Manoj Singh, Mr. Manoj Mahaur, Mr. Harsh Ajay Singh, Advocates in W.P.(C) 11011/2022 & W.P.(C) 11014/2022 Mr. Ankur Chhibber, Mr. H S Tiwari, Mr. Anshuman Mehrotra, Mr. Nikunj Arora, Advocates in W.P.(C) 10231/2022 & W.P.(C) 10748/2022 Mr. Dinesh Kr. Goswami, Senior Advocate with Mr. Rohit Pandey, Mr.Vaibhav Maheshwari, Mr. Varad Dwivedi, Ms. Munisha Anand, Mr.Adhyam Gupta, Ms. Nisha Thakur, Advocates in W.P.(C) 11012/2022 Mr. Manohar Lal Sharma, Ms. Suman, Advocates in W.P.(C) 11013/2022 Mr. D.K. Garg, Mr. Abhishek Garg, Mr. Dhananjay Garg, Mr. Ishaan Tiwari, Advocates in W.P.(C) 12034/2022 Mr. Ram Naresh Yadav, Advocate in W.P.(C) 11364/2022 Mr. Kamal Kapoor, Advocate in W.P.(C) 14509/2022. Mr. Gautam Dhamija, Ms. Dania Nayyar, Mr. Tejaswi Bhanu, Advocates Mr. Virendra Rawat, Advocate in W.P.(C) 14596/2022 Mr. Krishnamohan Menon, Ms. Dania Nayyar, Mr. Gautam Dhamija, Mr. Chaitanyashil Priyadarshi, Ms. Tejaswi Bhanu, Ms. Parul Sachdeva, Ms. Saloni Sharma and Mr. Sumit Kulkarni, Advocates Mr. Vijay Singh, Mr. Pawan Kumar Nadia, Mr. Suman Saharan, Mr. Anuj Sharma and Mr. Divesh Gupta, Advocates for the Petitioners in W.P.(C) No. 10856/2022. Wg. Cdr. Pradeep Kumar S Pillai (Retd.) – in person in W.P.(C) 17302/2022 Mr. B. Aloor and Mr. Sathesh K.R., Advocates in W.P.(C) 16695/2022

Ms. Aishwarya Bhati, Additional Solicitor General and Mr. Chetan Sharma, Additional Solicitor General with Mr. Anurag Ahluwalia, CGSC, Mr. Harish Vaidyanathan, CGSC, Mr. Kirtiman Singh, CGSC, Mr. Amit Gupta, Mr. Srish Kumar Mishra, Mr. Chaitanya Puri, Ms. Sanjana Nangia, Mr. Saurabh Tripathi, Ms. Kunjala Bhardwaj, Mr. Saurabh Tripathi, Mr. Madhav Bajaj, Mr. Waize Ali, Mr. Rishav Dubey, Mr. Danish Faraz Khan, Mr. Sagar Mehlawat, Mr. Manvendra Singh, Mr. Abhijeet Singh, Mr. Aman Sharma, Mr. Rustam Singh Chauhan, Ms. Shivika Mehra, Ms. B. L. N. Shivani, Ms. Vidhi Jain, Ms. Durgeshnadini, Mr. Rahul Sharma, Mr. Prashant Singh, Mr. Alexander Mathai Paikaday, Ms. Aishwary Mishra and Mr. Aditya Singh Chauhan, Mr. Nitinjya Chaudhary, Mr. Sagar Mehlawat and Mr. Aman Sharma, Advocates along with Colonel Gurpreet Kaur Dayal, Major Partho Katyayan, Major Steve Barreto, Lt. Commander Vikrant Singh, Wing Commander Vishal Chopra and Captain Sirdhar Jayasankar in all the matters.

FAQs on Agnipath Scheme Recruitment

1. What is Agnipath Scheme in India?

The Agnipath new scheme refers to recruitment in the Armed Forces for a four-year tenure, which may be extended based on the person’s performance during service.

2. What is Delhi High Court Agneepath case status?

The constitutional validity of Agnipath recruitment scheme has been upheld by the Delhi High Court. A batch of 21 petitions challenged the Agniveers Agnipath Scheme since they were shortlisted but not appointed.

3. Why Agnipath scheme protest?

The main reason for debate on Agnipath Scheme was the absence of gratuity or pensionary benefits and lack of job security after the 4-year term of service comes to an end.

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