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Tribune analysis
Army Chief’s Age Row-Part 3
A matter of Honour vs Propriety
The Twist in the Tale
By Raj Chengappa

PART 1: A matter of Honour vs Propriety
PART 2: The second big anomaly
PART 3: The Twist in the Tale
PART 4: The General’s Gambit
PART 5: The General gives his ‘word’
A matter of propriety vs integrity

Deep in the bowels of South Block, there are two branches of the Army that have a key role in determining whether General Vijay Kumar Singh, Chief of Army Staff, was right in appealing to the highest court in India to have his date of birth corrected in the records.

The headquarters of both these branches in Delhi are walking distance from each other. Just two flights of stairs away to be precise. Yet the lack of communication between the two over Singh’s date of birth appears to have resulted in the most messy public confrontation between the Army Chief and the Union of India.

On the ground floor of South Block is the Military Secretary's (MS) Branch close to what is known as the Library Section. The MS Branch is responsible for overseeing all annual confidential records, postings and promotions of commissioned officers and maintains their personal files.

On the second floor is the Adjutant General's office that, among other things, is responsible for manpower planning, recruitment and storage of all records of Army personnel. Since there are over 1 million personnel in the Army, the records section is located in West Block No. 3 in RK Puram, around 9 km away.

Two don’t tally

The labyrinthine chambers of these two behemoths may hold the clue to why both these branches of the Indian Army have been maintaining different dates of birth ever since Vijay Kumar Singh was commissioned on 14 June 1970 — almost 42 years ago. While the MS Branch maintains that the Army Chief's date of birth is 10 May 1950, the AG's Branch in its records has it as 10 May 1951 — exactly a year's difference.

As had been mentioned in Part 1 and 2 of The Tribune series on the Army Chief's Age Row, there was a curious set of circumstances that led to two sets of dates being maintained by two major branches of the Army. This despite these two branches having one of the most elaborate systems of record keeping in the country, maintaining even the smallest detail of all personnel.

In the Army Chief's ‘Record of Service’ maintained by the AG's Branch, for instance, apart from his date of birth (shown as 10 May 1951), it has his educational qualifications, his date of commissioning, every single course he took, all his postings and promotions, the combat theatres he served in (over half a dozen of them), his marriage (to Bharti on 25 June 1975 in Bhiwani), his children (Mrinalini and Yogja with their date of births), his illnesses (among them a nasal allergy on 18 June 1991) and his awards and decorations (12 of them).

In Part 2, there is record of every financial transaction he has made exceeding Rs 10,000, including purchases of electronic goods or cars apart from land and buildings acquired.

Despite the elaborate records that the Army collects, when it comes to errors concerning the date of birth, there has been remarkably little dispute. On 17 November 2011, the RTI Cell of the Army in reply to a query stated that there have been only five cases of changes of birth dates of Army officers since 1947. Three of them were decided by a court order and in one case concerning a Lieutenant General, it took 36 years for him to get relief.

In Vijay Kumar Singh's case, as mentioned in the earlier parts of the series, the problem occurred right from the beginning when he claims he "inadvertently" entered his date of birth as 10 May 1950 in the original UPSC form that he had filled up while applying for the National Defence Academy (NDA) examination on 29 July 1965. The minimum qualification for entering the NDA is passing the Class X (matriculation) examination. But candidates like Singh who were appearing for theClass X examinations before the course began in July 1966 could also apply subject to them having provided proof that they had cleared the exams.

Elusive certificate

As proof of the date of birth, Rule 136 of the Army Manual states that the age recorded in the enrolment form of a person shall be in conformity with the date given in the matriculation certificate or equivalent examination. Or if no date of birth is shown on the certificate, then a school transfer/leaving certificate could be submitted or a certificate from the headmaster giving the exact age as recorded in the school admission file.

In Singh's case, as he was yet to pass his Matriculation, he states that his father, Colonel Jagat Singh, who was then serving at 14 Rajput Regiment, had his Officer Commanding issue a certificate that was submitted to the UPSC before he did the NDA exams in December 1965. Singh did his Class X Board examinations in March 1966.

In May 1966, the NDA results were declared ahead of the Class X results and Singh was among those who passed. As part of the requirement he states he submitted to the UPSC a provisional certificate attested by his school, Birla Public School, Pilani, that showed his date of birth to be 10 May 1951. On 18 June 1966, the UPSC sent him a letter pointing out the discrepancy in the date of birth as compared to the form he had filled up for the NDA examination and requested him to clarify the correct date of birth.

With his Class X Board examinations just out and the original certificate expected to come only after six months, Singh got his school principal to issue a Secondary School Transfer Certificate that certified that he had passed the X Board examinations and that his date of birth was 10 May 1951. He stated that along with a covering letter from his father he personally handed over the certificate to the UPSC office in Delhi on 29 June 1966.

Singh believed that the UPSC had accepted the change and hence he was permitted to join the NDA. As proof that he had delivered such a letter, in his statutory complaint to the Union of India in August 2011 (the first time an Army Chief had resorted to such a plaint), Singh attached a copy of the stamped receipt that the UPSC gave him.

Among the points made by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in its order of 30 December 2011 rejecting the Army Chief's statutory complaint was that he had produced no proof to show that the UPSC had issued a formal letter correcting the discrepancy. The MoD also pointed out that the UPSC in its files had no record of any communication it had with Singh or his father with regard to the matter.

Why the mix-up

So how then did the two branches of the Army, MS and AG, end up with varying dates on their records? The answer may lie in the numerous forms that the Army requires when a candidate is selected for the NDA and enters the Academy. This forms the basis of his future records. After passing the written examination, a candidate has to appear before a Service Selection Board (SSB) where apart from being interviewed by a panel of officers he also has to pass intelligence, psychological and physical endurance tests.

In Singh's case, since he had opted for the Air Force as his first choice, he was sent to the SSB in Dehradun. As soon as he arrived on 9 May 1966, as part of standard procedure, he was asked to fill up Form SP-103. This asked for details such as UPSC roll number, name, height, identification marks, date and place of birth, particulars of his parents, educational qualifications, references and home address. In that form Singh filled up his date of birth as 10 May 1951.

Simultaneously, another Form SP-44 is filled up by a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) that is to test the candidates. The data such as name, date of birth and other details are taken from the candidate’s UPSC form. In this form, Singh's date of birth is entered as 10 May 1950 reflecting what he had filled up in his original Application form. This form is also dated as 9 May 1966, the same day that Singh filled up his SP-103 form.

If the candidates were successful, as Singh was, the SP-103 form filled up by them were then sent for "verification of character and antecedents" to revenue and police officials of the district essentially the District Magistrate, the District Superintendent of Police (SP) and the SP (CID). Singh claims that since the SP-103 form also contained his date of birth these officials had verified it. But the MoD in its order pointed out that this was mainly for character verification and could not be taken as authentication of his birth records.

The SP-103 is sent to the NDA where it becomes part of the Dossier of the candidate. After completion these are sent to the IMA, where a fresh set of Dossiers are compiled. Singh joined the IMA in July 1969 and while filling up the forms in the 'Record of Particulars' Singh wrote his date of birth as 10 May 1950. He was then 18 or 19 years of age depending on which date of birth is considered and can no more claim to be a minor. In his complaint, he states that the instructions were to fill the application form "as per the UPSC application form.”

Mounting evidence

The General claims he then got the IMA to write to his school and have the correct date of birth attested. The MoD, in its order, pointed out that IMA records showed no such communication with the school or that it had corrected the records on the basis of such communication. The MoD also pointed out that the IMA's Dossier, Record of Particulars, Final Assessment and Confidential report also showed Singh’s date of birth as 10 May 1950, which indicated that no correction had been made.

Singh counters such statements by citing the fact that his ID card (IC 24173) issued by the IMA, which he has to carry throughout his years of service, has his date of birth as 10 May 1951. The MoD's explanation is that the data is taken from the SP-103 form which Singh himself had filled up when he went to the SSB. But the MoD is hard put to explain why there was no verification done by the IMA when its other records had a contradictory date of birth.

There is one more form that is critical to the entire row. When a candidate passes out of the IMA and is commissioned into the Army, he is assigned to a Unit. As soon as he reports for duty, he fills up an IAFZ-2041 form which is the basic ‘Record of Service’. The details filled up in the form are to be authenticated by an officer of the unit. In Singh's case he is commissioned on 14 June 1970 and sent to the 14 Rajput, an infantry battalion, stationed in Delhi and in his IAFZ-2041 form he writes 10 May 1951 as his date of birth and this is authenticated by his Unit officer.

No authentication

In its order, the MoD charges Singh with “not correctly representing his date of birth”. Relying on advice given by Goolam Vahanvati, Attorney General of India, the MoD points out that the annexure to the IAFZ-2041 states: “Officers will ensure that particulars given by them are correct and agree with those given by them in the original application for the grant of commissioning ie UPSC.” The MoD concludes that “in the absence of authentication of 10 May 1951 as the date of birth, its basis for the Record of Service cannot be accepted.”

All these forms and dossiers are then sent to the MS Branch where they become part of the record in a register. A copy is also sent to the AG's Manpower Planning Unit 5 & 6, which is the repository of all commissioned officers records. The AG's Recruiting Directorate also sends the SP-44 form to MS Branch.

Vahanvati in his advice to the MoD on 11 May 2011 pointed out that when Singh was commissioned, there were four documents that showed his date of birth as 10 May 1951. These are: SP-103 which he filled up at the SSB, the autobiography he wrote in the NDA, the Record of Service taken from particulars he had filled up and the school transfer certificate. Vahanvati points out that of these four documents, three had been written by Singh himself.

Of the documents that show his date of birth being 10 May 1950, two of them were written by Singh himself — the UPSC form and his dossier in the IMA. The note of commissioning dated 22 January 1971 also lists the same date.

To further disprove Singh's contentions, Vahanvati points out that within the AG Branch itself there are two sets of dates being maintained. He states that the AG Recruiting Directorate, which is tasked with verifying the date of birth, has a noting of 4 May 1971 that also shows the date of birth as 10 May 1950 — this is nearly one year after Singh gets commissioned into the Army. Vahanvati further states that in this noting "it is also confirmed that the date of birth and educational qualifications of the cadets submitted to the NDA were verified by the UPSC."

The MoD in its order mounts further evidence in the form of the mandatory Gazette notification with respect to the 45th Regular Course of the IMA that Singh belonged to. His date of birth in this vital document is recorded as 10 May 1950. The MoD points out that the file was initiated by the MS Branch, it was seen and vetted by the AG's Recruiting Branch, the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA), and finally approved by the Ministry itself.

Further, the MoD points out that two of Singh's coursemates had queries about their date of birth and these were rectified. In the case of Baldev Singh Dhaliwal (IC24292), his date of birth was corrected and AK More, another coursemate of Singh, the CGDA sought verification of the date of birth as no indication was given in his application form regarding its verification. Significantly, the MoD adds, "No such observation was made" with regard to Singh.

The MoD's point was that if there was some ambiguity about Singh's date of birth record, it would have been pointed out then. When the MoD published the draft notification in the Gazette of India (No. 2558 dated 18 September 1971), next to Singh's name it showed his date of birth as 10 May 1950.

Singh's counter is that his commission was "provisional" as his matriculation certificate had yet to be submitted because of a peculiar turn of events. The original certificate, he states in his petition, went wrongly to his father's unit. As he had been transferred out, the postal department sent it to his village address where it lay till Singh went home in 1971 and discovered it. He said he promptly sent the original certificate through his company unit and after that his commission was regularised.

The MoD dismisses his assertion and points out that his commission in the draft gazette notification clearly mentions that he was a "regular commissioned" officer. Then, when the Army List 1974-75 is published, the most authentic document listing those who had been commissioned, Singh's name figures and his date of birth is mentioned as 10 May 1950.

Under Army rules, Singh has to request a correction within two years of its publication after which he forfeits the right to do so. The General makes no such official and formal request till 2006 by which time the MoD says it is too late to make any changes and his appeal had been timed out.

Tomorrow: The General’s Gambit





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