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Army Chief drags govt to court
AGE ROW: First serving Chief to move SC against govt, cites ‘honour, integrity’
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 16
In an unprecedented move, Army Chief General VK Singh today dragged the government to the Supreme Court, challenging its decision over his date of birth. If the government has its way, the General will retire on May 31.

General Singh, in his writ petition, the first-ever filed by a serving Chief against the government, challenged the rejection of his statutory complaint by Defence Minister AK Antony on December 30, 2011. He also sought a stay on the implementation of the Ministry of Defence’s July 21, 2011 order that fixed the General’s date of birth as May 10, 1950.

WHEN NAVAL Chief was sacked

New Delhi: On December 30, 1998, the government sacked the then Navy Chief, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, and appointed Vice-Admiral Sushil Kumar his successor. The order was preceded by a row between Navy Chief and the then Defence Minister. The Navy Chief had declared that the order of the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) was unimplementable. The ACC had placed Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh as the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (Operations). Admiral Bhagwat had recommended Vice-Admiral Madanjit Singh for the post. — TNS

The confusion over General VK Singh’s age stems from the fact that the Army has been maintaining two records all these years. The Military Secretary’s (MS) office says the Chief’s date of birth is May 1950 while the Adjutant General’s (AG) branch lists it as May 1951.

The General has said in his petition that the age row is a matter of integrity and honour. He has questioned the government's decision to treat his date of birth as May 10, 1950 instead of May 10, 1951 as claimed by him on the basis of his matriculation certificate and other documents.

Till yesterday, General Singh kept his plan to move court under wraps and even hosted President Pratibha Devi Singh Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister AK Antony and Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi at an Army Day function at his home.

The petition, so far, does not mention whether the General has asked for an extension in service beyond May 31, 2012 — the dated mandated by the Ministry of Defence as his retirement. The Army Chief’s tenure is of three years or 62 years of age, whichever is earlier. The General, who succeeded Gen Deepak Kapoor as Army Chief on March 31, 2010, was a para-commando and veteran of the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

To buttress his claim, the Chief’s lawyers have cited Supreme Court judgments that say the matriculation certificate is to be considered the final document while deciding on an employee’s date of birth.

Also attached to the petition is the clarification made by the Chief’s father before the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) that had raised the issue of two date of births 40-odd years ago.

General Singh’s lawyers have also stated that all his documents — commissioning, matriculation etc — mention May 10, 1951 as his date of birth. His gallantry medal citations from the President also confirm May 1951 as his year of birth. Only in the admission form filled at the time of admission to the National Defence Academy, the General - then a 14-year-old boy - filled in May 10, 1950 as his date of birth. The form was purportedly filled in by a teacher in his school in Pilani.

His lawyers have cited Section 90 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 that states any document proved to be 30 years old can be taken as authentic by the court. In this case, the General’s matriculation certificate is over 30 years old. The petition also cites Section 35 of the same act that says any entry in any public or other official book or register is itself a relevant fact. Chandigarh-based lawyer Puneet Bali is part of the Army Chief’s legal team. “Since the matter is before the judiciary, it would be inappropriate for me to comment,” he said over the phone, expressing confidence that the matter was legally maintainable and had a strong basis in law.

The General’s decision to move court has the potential, in the long run, to drive a wedge between the delicate Army-civilian relationship in the country, besides leading to an upheaval in the succession battle among top generals.





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