SC ruling on Agnipath scheme

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    • The Supreme Court recently dismissed petitions challenging the Delhi High Court judgment which upheld the Agnipath scheme for recruitment to the armed forces.

    More about the news

    • The petition:
      • The Delhi High Court judgment recently upheld the Agnipath scheme for recruitment to the armed forces.
      • The petitioners were challenging this judgment.
    • Issue:
      • Some of the petitioners included candidates who were shortlisted in the earlier recruitment process to Army and Air Force.
      • Their names appeared in a provisional list for recruitment to Air Force but the recruitment process was cancelled when Agnipath scheme was notified. 
        • There was a written exam, physical test, medical exam conducted under the old recruitment process after which a provisional selection list was published with the ranks.
        • These candidates had got jobs in BSF and other paramilitary organisations, but had refused as they were told that Air Force recruitment letters will be issued.
      • So the petitioners argued that the government must be directed to complete the old process citing the doctrine of promissory estoppel.

    Doctrine of promissory estoppel

    • What is the doctrine?
      • Promissory estoppel is a concept developed in contractual laws.
      • A valid contract under law requires an agreement to be made with sufficient consideration
    • Significance:
      • A claim of doctrine of promissory estoppel essentially prevents a “promisor” from backing out of an agreement on the grounds that there is no “consideration.”
    • How?
      • The doctrine is invoked in court by a plaintiff (the party moving court in a civil action) against the defendant to ensure execution of a contract or seek compensation for failure to perform the contract.
      • Checklist for application: 
        • In a 1981 decision in Chhaganlal Keshavlal Mehta v. Patel Narandas Haribhai, the SC lists out a checklist for when the doctrine can be applied. 
          • First, there must be a clear and unambiguous promise. 
          • Second, the plaintiff must have acted relying reasonably on that promise. 
          • Third, the plaintiff must have suffered a loss.

    SC’s decision on the issue

    • The judges have refused this argument pointing out that “promissory estoppel is always subject to overarching public interest”.
    • They also added that “this is not a contract matter where promissory estoppel in public law was applied, it is a public employment”.

    About the Agnipath Recruitment Scheme

    • About: 
      • Around 45,000 to 50,000 soldiers will be recruited annually, and most will leave the service in just four years. 
      • Of the total annual recruits, only 25 percent will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission.
      • Recruits under the scheme will be known as “Agniveers”. 
    • Features:
      • Enrolment in all three services: 
        • Centralised online system to conduct rallies & campus interviews at recognised technical institutes such as the Industrial Training Institutes, and the National Skills Qualifications Framework.
      • Eligibility criteria: 
        • It is only for personnel below officer ranks. On an ‘All India All Class’ basis with the eligibility age ranging from 17.5 to 21 years, with medical and physical fitness standards.
        • Educational qualification: Class X-XII
        • Recruitment will be done twice a year.
      • Pay and Perks: 
        • Annual package of 4.76 lakh in the first year to 6.92 lakh in the fourth year along with hardship allowance.
        • Under the “Seva Nidhi” package (which is exempt from Income Tax), they will receive about 11.71 lakh, including contribution and interest, on completion of service. 
          • The recruits will have to contribute 30% of their monthly emoluments to Seva Nidhi, with a matching contribution made by the government. 
        • There will be no entitlement to gratuity and pensionary benefits under the scheme. 
    • Concerns:
      • No Pilot Project to Test the Scheme; Lead to the militarization of the society. 
      • May Dilute professionalism, military ethos and fighting spirit (takes 7-8 yrs to become fully ready combat soldier)
      • Will hit the basic ethos of Naam, Namak & Nishan (reputation of Battalion, fidelity & ensign)
      • Tourist soldiering is not a good idea for India’s security challenges.
    • Rationale of the scheme:
      • Enhancing the youthful profile of the Armed Forces:
        • The Centre has defended the Agnipath scheme, saying that its biggest aim was to enhance the youthful profile of the Armed Forces and reduce the average age of soldiers from 32 years to 26 years over a period of time.
      • ‘Leader to led’ ratio:
        • With the introduction of the scheme, the ‘leader to led’ ratio will become 1:1 from the current ratio of 1:1.28, the Centre has said.
      • Well thought & studied decision:
        • The government also told the court that the impugned scheme is the result of various studies and deliberations such as the Kargil Review Committee, which proposed the retention of soldiers for a shorter duration of time as opposed to the existing structure of 15 to 20 years
        • The military intake and retention models of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and France were considered by experts to analyse the efficiency and organisational benefits of short-term military service. 
      • Affordability of education:
        • The government believes that this scheme can help the youth in the country who are not able to afford an education.
      • Career choices post Agniveer:
        • The central government has also rolled out a list of career choices for the 75% of Agniveers who will be demobilized after four years of service.
          • Those who wish to work will be given priority in CAPFs, police, Assam rifles and police and allied forces in several states.
        • Furthermore, it will also help the Agniveers to kickstart their second career with necessary bank loans – which will be given on a priority basis.

    Source: TH