The Supreme Court on Monday decided to take up a petition challenging the central government’s newly-launched Agnipath defence recruitment scheme on July 11. A two-judge vacation bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari directed the matter to be listed for hearing next week when the top court reopens after the summer vacation.
The Agnipath scheme was announced on June 14 by Union Defence minister Rajnath Singh in the presence of the three defence services chiefs in a bid to bring down the average age of the Indian Army and reduce the ballooning costs of paying pension to armed forces retirees. Under the scheme, the government proposed to employ youth between 17-and-a-half-years to 21 years for a period of four years, after which 25% of the ‘Agniveers’ will be retained in the forces for 15 years, while the rest would be integrated back to the civillian society, with a corpus fund of Rs 11.71 lakh, partly paid by the government and the rest paid out of the Agniveers’ salary.
Soon after violent protests against the scheme broke out across the country, the Centre relaxed the upper age limit and extended it to 23 for this year. The Centre also announced that an additional 10% of the Agniveers will be taken into the Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles after the end of their four-year tenure.
Under this scheme, the government projected that they will be recruiting 50,000 youngsters annually for the next four years. Many BJP-ruled states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh guaranteed employment to ‘Agniveers’ from their respective states across several state departments on their return. Many big corporate houses, like Mahindra Group, also showed interest in employing and training ‘Agniveers’ after their tenure ends.
However, many protesters and Opposition political parties criticised this move as they believed that the security of the country will be compromised as the ‘Agniveers’ will not be battle-ready to defend the borders after six months of crash course. Many Opposition leaders also asked the government to recruit all the ‘Agniveers’ for the regular span of 15 years instead of just four years.