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Tribune analysis
Army Chief’s Age Row - PArt 4
A matter of Honour vs Propriety
The General’s Gambit
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

“Requests for change of dates of birth of members of the defence services should not be encouraged. Only in very special cases the change be sponsored provided there is overwhelming evidence to show that the date of birth recorded in the services records is incorrect… Quite apart from the financial effect of such changes in dates of birth of officers etc they have certain far reaching implications affecting promotion…”

— Office Memorandum,
No 757/ D(MS) D(Coord) Ministry of Defence, 23 June 1954

“No requests for change of birth shall be entertained after the lapse of two years from the date of grant of first commission in case of commissioned officers…”

— Office Memorandum,
35 (1)/A/63 B, Ministry of Defence, 21 April 1964

Given the poor system of registration of births that existed soon after Independence, the Government of India thought it wise to pass tough rules governing requests for change of dates of birth. That included the Ministry of Defence which in 1954 passed an Office Memorandum (OM) discouraging requests for change of dates of birth. In 1964 it followed it up with another OM putting a strict time frame of two years from the date of grant of first commission within which the officer concerned could petition the Ministry for a change.

Chief of Army Staff General Vijay Kumar Singh's writ petition for reconciling his date of birth in the Army records in the highest court of the land may well be determined by these two office memoranda that apply to all armed forces personnel with no exceptions.

Time barred

General Singh was commissioned into the Indian Army on 14 June 1970 and if he had any issues with the correctness of his date of birth, he should have made a formal complaint to the Military Secretary Branch through his Unit by June 1972. He did not for the reasons outlined in previous parts of the series carried by The Tribune.

Even if the Army List of 1974-75 was published (which formally mentioned the commission of Vijay Kumar Singh and his date of birth as 10 May 1950) is taken as the final commissioning document, technically he would have had to make an appeal within two years of its publication.

By his own admission, in his statutory complaint to the Union Government and his writ petition, the first time he made an effort to amend his date of birth in the Army List was in 1985 when as a Major, he approached the Adjutant General Branch dealing with the records section.

According to Singh, he was not aware of the publication of the Army List when it came out as it was meant for restricted supply and not circulated at the Unit he was serving then. He also pointed out that since the ID Card issued to him by the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at the time of commissioning had his date of birth as 10 May 1951 he believed that his earlier efforts to get his date of birth corrected in the original UPSC Application Form had succeeded.

Singh states in his statutory complaint to the Government in August 2011, that in 1985, when a friend mentioned to him about the discrepancy in the Army List, he approached the AG Branch Manpower Planning (MP) 5/6 for help. He states that he was informed that as per their records his date of birth was 15 May 1951 and that "as they were the designated authority on these matters, therefore, I should not worry about the Army List and it would get automatically updated with corrected data."

MoD's counter

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) does not buy Singh's argument. In its order of 30 December 2011 rejecting the General's statutory complaint it states, "There is no record to substantiate this assertion. Therefore it cannot be accepted." Goolam Vahanvati, Attorney General of India, who was consulted by the MoD on the entire issue, in his advice given on 21 November 2011, is more scathing in his comments over the 1985 attempt stating, " If a person, as painstaking as the complainant appears to be in his efforts to 'rectify' his date of birth, knew that there was a discrepancy with regard to the Army List, surely he would not have left it at the level of an oral assurance and ensured that rectification did in fact take place."

Vijay Kumar Singh made his next bid to change his date of birth as a Brigadier in 2002 when he approached the Management Information System Organisation (MISO) wing that publishes the Nominal Roll of Brigadiers and above. In the Nominal Roll, his date of birth was listed as 10 May 1950. Singh states that he had forwarded a copy of his matriculation certificate to it. But in its order the MoD pointed out, "Here again, there are no records either with MISO or with the complainant to substantiate the assertion."

Yet it isn't as if the MoD is without fault. Singh points out that all his Confidential Records maintained by the MS Branch on which his promotions were based, have his date of birth as 10 May 1951 as do the awards and decorations he won from time to time.

The first time that the MoD officially acknowledged that there was a discrepancy in the records maintaining his date of birth was in 2006 when Singh was a Major General and had completed 36 years of service in the Army. The MS Branch had sent a proposal to the MoD empanelling Singh in the rank of Lieutenant General to be posted as Commander of 10 Corp. Such a procedure is followed as any promotion from the rank of Major General to Lieutenant General in the Army has to be approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) chaired by the Prime Minister.

The then Joint Secretary (G and Air), MoD, in a note of 23 April 2006 to the Army HQ pointed out that Singh's date of birth in the 'Nominal Roll' was recorded as 10 May 1950 whereas in the 'Paramount Card', which is a summary of his entire record of service, the date given was 10 May 1951. He also pointed out that the original UPSC application form for the NDA examination as well as the draft Gazette notification of the 45 Regular Course for IMA, which Singh was part of, gave his date of birth as 10 May 1950. The Joint Secretary wanted the note to reflect the correct date of birth.

On 3 May 2006, Lt General Richard Khare, the then Military Secretary, wrote to Singh stating these anomalies and ended by stating, "You are hereby requested that, in future, you may reflect the correct date of birth which is 10 May 1950… Alternatively, you may clarify the variance and the correct date of birth as known by you."

To this, Singh, who was then Chief of Staff at 15 Corps HQ, replied on 10 May 2006 starting with "My dear General" and explaining that as his Secondary School Certificate did not arrive till 1971, the AG's branch had marked his commission as "provisional." And on receipt of the certificate "the provisional status was removed" and his corrected date of birth was accepted by them.

Justifying the anomaly

Singh then stated that he was attaching the original certificate and a copy of the 'Record of Service' maintained by the AG's MP5 for his perusal. About the anomalies in the other documents, Singh wrote, "it is submitted that the date given in the UPSC form was filled as per details given by the school clerk and the same was subsequently maintained till the original certificate was received. In the absence of the original certificate the error made due to what the clerk gave continued. The correct date of birth has accordingly been mentioned on the CR's since submission of the original certificate."

It is in this letter he put down on record his efforts to get the date of birth corrected in 1985 and in 2002. He ended the letter by stating, "I have always retained the impression that the necessary correction would have been carried out by the MS Branch at the behest of AG's Branch. It appears that this impression has been wrong and a doubt has come up almost 35 years after submission of correct certificates. It is required that necessary corrections may now be made per records maintained by AG's branch."

Conflicting records

By making such an assertion, Singh for the first time put down in writing as to why he believed the discrepancy between the records of the AG's Branch and the MS Branch with regard to his date of birth came about. There was an indication that the late arrival of his certificate may have compounded his earlier request to the UPSC in 1966 when the discrepancy in his date of birth was first noticed. This may also explain why the IMA had conflicting records reflecting his date of birth that was then inherited by the two Army Branches, AG and MS.

From Singh's account in his letter to Khare he had sent his certificate to the AG Branch for correction of his date of birth a year after he was commissioned in 1970. Perhaps he should have submitted it to the MS Branch which had taken charge of his records after he was commissioned and was supposedly the sanctioning authority for making changes in the date of birth in the records.

In his complaint to the government, Singh states he met Khare, the then Military Secretary, after he sent the letter to him. According to Singh, Khare explained "the entire issue in detail. I was told that if my confidential reports reflected my date of birth as 10 May 1951, then I should have no reason for concern. I was told that all records will be checked again and the reconciliation will be carried out."

Singh states on the basis of this reassurance he did not pursue the matter further about correction of his date of birth at that time. Singh was then promoted as a Lieutenant General and posted as General Officer Commanding of the Ambala based 2 Corp. His apparent acquiescence during this crucial period is a subject of debate.

The MoD, though, has a different account of how Khare handled the matter after he received Singh's letter of 10 May 2006. In its order of 30 December 2011, the MoD states, "Records indicate that the case was examined in detail in the MS Branch. The MP Directorate, AG Branch informed MS branch that the service records of the Late Col Jagat Singh, the complainant's father, show that the Veteran Register did not have any details with regard to dates of birth of his children. Keeping in view the rule position that the date of birth entered in the Army List as verified by the complainants original UPSC application form, is to be treated as correct for the purposes of promotion and retirement and any change or correction of the date of birth in case of commissioned officers cannot be considered after a lapse of two years from the date of Commission, MS Branch, with the approval of the then Chief of Army Staff decided that 10 May 1950 was being considered as the complainant's correct date of birth."

Silence speaks

Khare then wrote a letter dated 21 August 2006 to Singh, who then had taken over as GOC, 2 Corp, stating, "After due examination of the case and in light of the rule position, facts brought out and documents forwarded by you along with the DO letter, we regret to inform you that the case for change/correction of your date of birth cannot be processed at this belated state."

There is a lull in the correspondence for over a year before Singh brings up the issue of the correction of his date of birth. In doing so Singh appears to have resorted to unusual tactics. He approached the AG's branch to officially clarify his age. Accordingly, in October 2007 Lt Col BR Chharang, AAG MP 5 & 6 issued a "To Whomsoever it May Concern" letter that stated "As per the records maintained by this headquarters, IC 24173 W Lieutenant General Vijay Kumar Singh, AVSM, YSM, was commissioned in the Indian Army on 14 June 1970. The date of birth of the General Officer is 10 May 1951."

Having obtained confirmation from the AG’s branch of his date of birth, he forwarded the certificate to Lt Gen P.R. Gangadharan, who replaced Khare as Military Secretary, and in his covering letter of 10 December 2007 he refers to Khare’s letter of 21 August 2006 rejecting his request to correct his date of birth and states, “You are kindly requested to reconcile your records to reflect the correct date of birth. It is also requested that henceforth my correct date of birth as per AG records may please be reflected.”

By then Singh is being considered for promotion to the rank of Army Commander to be posted as GoC-in-C, Eastern Army Command. His letter asking for his date of birth to be reconciled is brought to the notice of Bimal Julka, the then Joint Secretary (G/Air), who wants to know the reasons behind it and sends a letter to the Military Secretary.

On 20 December 2007 Gangadharan, the Military Secretary, wrote back to Julka, giving the background of the case stating, “In view of the above, his official date of birth continues to be entered as 10 May 1950.” From the records it appears that Singh meanwhile independently pursued the issue with the AG’s branch because sometime in early January 2008, Maj General SR Ghosh, the then ADG MP & P, puts out a detailed note stating that all records available in his office indicate that his date of birth is 10 May 1951.

The MS branch though remained unconvinced. On 21 January 2008, Gangadharan wrote to Singh, repeating the points as to why a change in the date of birth cannot be considered and stated, “We are constrained to maintain your official date of birth as 10 May 1950 and the same may kindly be reflected in all your records/documents. The AG’s branch is being accordingly intimated to amend the records being maintained by them. Please acknowledge and confirm your acceptance.”

Singh’s adamant approach though seems to have miffed the MoD which began to question the suitability of promoting him. On 21 January 2008, Julka wrote to General Deepak Kapoor, the then Chief of Army Staff, (COAS) stating: “ It is an oddity that the officer has continued to stand by a date of birth, which is not officially recognised and thereby revealing an attitude apparently questionable and not reflective of the qualities expected from an Army Commander. In view of this, the question of suitability of Lt Gen VK Singh as Army Commander calls for a revisit.”

Singh appears to have been conveyed the news of the displeasure his memos were generating in the MoD and that it may affect his chances of a promotion. For he wrote to Gangadharan on 24 January 2008 stating that, “I am constrained to point out that your letter raises questions of my integrity and hence I would like to clarify a few issues.” He then goes on to state that he never sought a date of birth change and all he was asking for was a reconciliation of records.

He ended on a conciliatory note stating: “I have total belief in the system as also great faith in the sagacity and wisdom of the organisation I have been serving. Therefore, anything which is required to be done in the larger interests of the organisation may be undertaken by the HQ.”

The MoD though remained dissatisfied with such a vague commitment. Singh in his petition states that “after a telephonic discussion with the then COAS” he sent a signal to the MS Branch the same day stating “whatever decision taken in the organizational interest is acceptable to me.”

From the exchange of cables that follows it is apparent that Singh pushed the MoD to make some commitment to go in-depth into his request for a change in the date of birth before he sends a final letter to the Military Secretary that “in view of the above constraint and in accordance with the discussion of date, I will mention the date of birth as directed.” That acquiescence which seemingly led to his promotion as Army Commander again became the subject of a raging debate.

Part 5: The General gives his ‘word’





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