Government moves Supreme Court, unlikely to sack Army Chief General VK Singh

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The government has filed a caveat in the Supreme Court on the petition moved by Army Chief General VK Singh on his age issue...

The government has filed a caveat in the Supreme Court on the petition moved by Army Chief General VK Singh on his age issue. Through the caveat, the government seeks that the court should not pass an order before hearing it.

The government does not seem to be taking any chances and is also stiff on its stand of opposing General Singh's writ petition in the apex court.

Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma has been called back from Malaysia in view of the development related to Army Chief's action. Defence Minister AK Antony also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss issue just hours after he held consultations with Attorney General GE Vahanvati.

The controversy over the date of birth of Indian Army Chief General VK Singh has pitted the military leadership against the Government. For the first time in the history of India a serving chief of an Indian defence force has moved the Supreme Court to restore what he claims is his "integrity and honour" and not about the tenure as is being pointed out by the Central Government and the Defence Ministry.

According to sources the government will find it difficult to sack General VK Singh even though he has moved the Supreme Court to resolve the controversy surrounding his date of birth.
Sources also say that the Supreme Court will certainly object if General Singh is removed as he has filed a petition.

The sacking may also be politically unwise in an election year when caste sentiments could be easily aroused, the sources added.

The Supreme Court will take a decision on General Singh's plea on his date of birth and it may refer him to a lower court or direct the government to respond.

Seniors lawyers said that General Singh moving the Supreme Court will only complicate the matter "Ideally this should have been referred to the Armed Forces Tribunal but there was a PIL pending in the Supreme Court. So he must have been advised to file his plea in the Supreme Court. But a tribunal is the place for a matter like this," said lawyer Raju Ramachandran.

"Article 32 is available for the enforcement of Fundamental Rights. Court normally doesn't entertain service matters under Article 32 especially when there is a tribunal. In the matter of the date of birth controversy, the Supreme Court has held that these issues should not be raised at the close of service," said senior advocate PP Rao.

The official Army records has two sets of dates of birth of General Singh - May 10, 1950 and May 10, 1951, leading to the controversy and also impacting the succession plan in the 1.13 million strong Army.

General Singh, a para-commando and veteran of 1971 Indo-Pak war, has been contending that May 10, 1951 should be treated as his actual date of birth as it was mentioned in his matriculation certificate but the Defence Ministry has rejected it as May 10, 1950 is the date entered in his UPSC entrance form for National Defence Academy (NDA).

If General Singh's date of birth is taken as May 10, 1951 then he will retire in March 2013 and if May 10, 1950 is accepted then his tenure will come to an end in May 2012. The difference of one year will have an affect on who will succeed him as the next Army Chief.

If he retires on May 31, 2012 then Eastern Army Commander Lieutenant General Bikram Singh will take over as the next Army Chief, but if he demits office in March 2013 then Northern Army commander Lieutenant General KT Parnaik could take over from him as Lt Gen Bikram Singh will retire later in 2012.

But if General Singh is removed or resigns before May 31, 2012, then Western Command Chief Lieutenant General Shankar Ghosh, who is the senior most serving officer in the Army, will take on as the 27th Chief of the Indian Army.

General Singh's age controversy and the resulted succession plan has divided the fraternity of retired military officers who say that this issue should have been handled in a more mature way by both the sides.

Former Navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, who is the only serving defence force chief to be sacked, hit out at the Central Government while former Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal SK Kaul felt there are more pressing matters for the armed forces to be addressed.

"It is virtually forcing him to take early retirement. It is like destabilising the Army and the armed forces," said Admiral (retired) Bhagwat, who was sacked in 1998 by the then NDA government.

"The matter should have been settled between the government and Army Chief with both sides agreeing to some meeting point. I feel there are so many pending issues to jostle with," said Air Chief Marshal (retired) Kaul.

Major General (retired) Satbir Singh said that the age controversy is about the integrity of a soldier.

"It is the personal decision of the Chief of Army Staff. He had been mentioning that it is his honour at stake; it is his integrity at stake. No soldier would like that to be questioned," said Major General (retired) Satbir Singh.

"He does not want to change the date of birth. It is a correction. You cannot have the Chief of Army Staff a liar or a man with no integrity. This has to be cleared in the minds of the people," Brigadier (retired) Mahalingam.

However, former Indian diplomat KC Singh claimed that General Singh has unnecessarily turned the age controversy a referendum on his honour and integrity.

"This was never a matter of honour. This is a technical issue within the Army. Time and again the Army Chief has taken it up and turned it into a matter of honour because you can't have people reaching the top most level and then deciding what their date of birth is," said KC Singh.

Another former IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal (retired) PV Naik, who had advised General Singh on the age issue earlier as a senior in the Chiefs of Staffs Committee, said, "I think it is a personal issue and he should do whatever he thinks is right. As a citizen of the country, he has the right to go to the court."

General Singh filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court on Monday after exhausting all statutory options within the Defence Ministry which had recently rejected his contention that he was born in 1951 and not 1950.

The petition challenges the July 21, 2011 order of the Defence Ministry which fixed the date of birth as May 10, 1950 and the December 30, 2011 decision by which his statutory complaint was rejected.

He has sought a direction for declaring May 10, 1951 as the correct date of birth.

The petition, filed by lawyer Punit Bali, has contended that for 36 years, the Army had accepted 1951 as his year of birth and he had got promotions on that basis. He questioned why the government wants to change the date of birth now.

The General is believed to have pointed out that the Supreme Court had ruled that the matriculation certificate was an authentic proof of date of birth in service matters.