M A I N   N E W S

age row
Govt ready to battle it out with Army Chief
Ajay Banerjee & R Sedhuraman/TNS

New Delhi, January 17
After being blighted by Army Chief General VK Singh’s writ petition filed in the Supreme Court yesterday, the Union Government today got down to exploring various options for tackling the issue.
n Defence Ministry files caveat in SC
n Antony discusses issue with PM
Defence Secy called back from Malaysia

The Ministry of Defence filed a caveat in the Supreme Court pleading that the court should not pass any order without seeking its views on the petition filed by the General.

Certain sections within the government said they were “pained” at the move of the Army Chief and termed it as a “bad precedent.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister AK Antony held a series of meetings with officials concerned to arrive at the best possible option and weighed various repercussions of each move. Sacking the General is not being considered, said sources, adding the government could not have changed the rules to correct the date of birth of the Army Chief as asked by him on the basis of his matriculation certificate. Rules specify a stipulated period for correcting an employee’s age and that period has already elapsed in the case.

The PM was reportedly briefed by Attorney-General GE Vahanvati on the issue. Sources said the government could take a position that the case be heard in the Armed Forces Tribunal as it was a service matter. However, it seems unlikely that the apex court would agree to such a request of the government and not take up the petition of the Army Chief.

To start with, the government has also considered that a new Chief of the Army could be appointed straightaway while General VK Singh can also continue in service and be asked to proceed on leave till the pendency of his plea in the apex court. This would mean having two four-star Generals. The confusion over the DoB stems from the fact that the Army, all these years, has been maintaining two records. The Military Secretary’s (MS) office says the DoB of the Army Chief is May 10, 1950, while the Adjutant General’s (AG) branch lists it as May 10, 1951. Among the things discussed today was the fact that the MS and the AG both work under the Army Chief. The controversy could give the government a handle to wrest control of these two wings, each of which is headed by a Lt General-rank official.

Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma, who was in Malaysia, was called back immediately. He held a series of meetings with Defence Minister AK Antony over the issue during the day.

The government then filed a caveat pleading with the Supreme Court not to pass any order without seeking its views. The ministry has approached the SC despite the fact that the apex court normally does not issue any order on such issues without hearing the other side. This shows that the government does not want to take any chances in the case.

Gen VK Singh has contended that he was fighting the case not to delay his retirement, slated for May 31 this year, but to have his honour and integrity intact. It is not clear as to when the petition filed by the Army Chief would be listed for hearing in the apex court. 





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