The Delhi High Court Thursday refused to stay the Centre's Agnipath Scheme for recruitment in the armed forces and asked the central government to file its reply on a batch of petitions challenging the scheme.
A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad granted four weeks to the Centre to file the response.
The court asked the Centre to file a consolidated reply on petitions challenging the scheme and separate replies on those pleas which have challenged the recruitment processes in accordance with the previous advertisements in the Army, Navy, and Air Force before the introduction of the Agnipath Scheme.
Counsel for one of the petitioners urged the court to stay the operation of the scheme till the petitions are decided.
The court, however, refused to stay the scheme saying that it was not passing any interim order and will hear the matter finally.
"We will not stay it. If you succeed you will get it," the bench orally said.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for some other petitioners, said the court may say that the appointment through the Agnipath Scheme will be subject to the outcome of the writ petitions.
To this, the bench said, "it is always there".
The Agnipath scheme, announced on June 14, provides for the recruitment of youths in the defence forces between the age of 17-and-a-half and 21 for only four years with a provision to retain 25 per cent of them for 15 more years. Protests had erupted in several states soon after the scheme was announced last month.
Later, the government extended the upper age limit to 23 years for recruitment under the scheme in 2022.
During the hearing when the bench sought to know if the Centre has filed its reply, the government counsel said notice was yet to be issued and the Supreme Court had said that all the matters relating to the scheme be transferred to the Delhi High Court and some of the petitions are yet to be received here.
The bench said that even if notice was not issued on the last date of hearing on July 20, the understanding was that the court will hear the matter on the next date.
You were required to file a reply, it said.
The court said there are different types of matters in the batch related to the scheme and previous recruitment processes and added, "The point is we cannot be endlessly dragging this matter.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, representing the Centre, said their consolidated reply was almost ready and it needs to be vetted by the Solicitor General after which it will be filed in the court.
She sought some time to file the reply in the matters relating to the Agnipath Scheme.
The court said, There are different categories of matters and there is a list before us. There are cases where the selection is over, where the selection is midway. There are slightly different types of cases. You file a reply. We will hear this matter finally.
The apex court on July 19, transferred here all the pleas pending before it challenging the scheme for recruitment in the armed forces.
The top court has also asked the high courts of Kerala, Punjab and Haryana, Patna, and Uttarakhand to transfer the PILs against the Agnipath scheme pending before them to the Delhi High Court or keep it pending till a decision from the Delhi High Court is delivered, if the petitioners before it so desire.
Earlier, there were three petitions on Agnipath Scheme before the apex court.
The petitions before the Supreme Court have sought a direction to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the damage to public properties, including Railways, during violent protests against the scheme.
In the apex court, the counsel for one Harsh Ajay Singh had said that they have challenged the Centre's decision of the 'Agnipath' scheme meant for recruitment in the Armed forces.
Advocate ML Sharma, who had also filed a separate petition in the top court, had said he sought the cancellation of the government's notification about the scheme as more than 70,000 aspirants who have undergone training were waiting for their appointment letters before the pandemic and now their career has been shortened by the scheme.
Before the Delhi High Court, one of the petitions sought a direction to the armed forces to resume the recruitment process cancelled due to the introduction of the Agnipath scheme and prepare the final merit list after conducting a written examination within a stipulated time.
Petitioner Rahul has submitted that he had applied for the post of soldier general duty and other candidates, besides this post, had applied for the posts of soldier technical, soldier technical (aviation/ammunition examiner), soldier technical nursing assistant/ nursing assistant veterinary, soldier clerk/ store keeper technical/ inventory management and soldier trade man in the Indian Army.
The plea said the petitioner along with others applied for the respective posts and their physical and medical examinations were also conducted and he cleared it successfully and was waiting for the written examination.
However, the petitioner found on the official website of the authorities that consequent to the implementation of the Agnipath Scheme for armed forces recruitment, the ministry has stopped and cancelled all pending processes including the Common Entrance Examination (CEE) of Indian Army recruitment for the previous recruiting years.