New Delhi, Feb 9 (IANS) The Supreme Court will hear Friday a plea from Indian Army chief General V.K. Singh to maintain his birth date as May 10, 1951, instead of 1950, and against the orders of the defence ministry rejection of his statutory complaint in this regard.
Gen. Singh Wednesday filed more documents in the apex court in support of his plea, which has been based on his school leaving certificate, ahead of the hearing when the bench would decide if it would admit the plea.
His petition, filed on Jan 16, had first come up for hearing on Feb 3 when the court rapped the government over the way it had handled the age row. The entire process of deciding his year of birth was ‘vitiated’, the apex court said.
The army chief approached the apex court against the defence ministry’s Dec 30 order rejecting his statutory complaint against the government fixing his year of birth as 1950, going by which he would have to retire May 31 this year.
The government had, after considering his request, also stated last July that his date of birth is May 10, 1950.
On both occasions, Advocate General G.E. Vahanvati, the government’s top most legal officer, had given his opinion against 1951 as the year of birth of Gen. Singh.
A bench of Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice H.L. Gokhale, hearing the petition, observed that it found an ‘administrative defect’ in the government’s decision-making process that fixed Gen. Singh’s age. It questioned how could the same legal officer be asked for advice twice over on the same issue, and asked the defence ministry to withdraw the Dec 30 order or it would be forced to quash it.
The court will take a call on this too after hearing the government’s side on what it intends to do on the Dec 30 rejection of the army chief’s statutory complaint.
The discrepancy in the highly decorated soldier’s year of birth stems from two sets of records — one with the army adjutant general’s branch indicating it as 1951 and the military secretary’s branch that showed it as 1950.
The basis of military secretary’s records is the Union Public Service Commission application filed by Gen. Singh, which mentioned that he was born on May 10, 1950.
But Gen. Singh has maintained that he submitted his school certificate to the UPSC on time for correction of his date of birth in official records even before he was commissioned into the Indian Army in 1970.
Interestingly, all other records such as passport, army identity card, and such documents indicate his year of birth as 1951, which is also the year that the adjutant general, the army’s official record keeper, maintains in his service records.
The age row first cropped up in 2006 when Singh was being considered for promotion as a corps commander.
The then military secretary sought a clarification from Singh on his age, but was later persuaded, reportedly at the insistence of then army chief Gen. J.J. Singh, to accept 1950 as his birth year.
This move, in fact, is said to ensure that the line of succession of the 1.13-million strong army would go to present Eastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh, as V.K. Singh will retire as the chief in May 2012.
If 1951 was considered as his year of birth, then the army chief’s mantle will pass to the present Northern Army Commander, Lt. Gen. K.T. Parnaik.
Gen. V.K. Singh’s supporters have questioned the motives of officers in the army headquarters in 2006 to rake up the age row, when all his previous appointments, promotions and postings, handled by the military secretary branch, were made on the basis of 1951 as his year of birth.
The government has cited the letters that Gen. Singh wrote to the army headquarters in 2006 and 2008, accepting 1950 as his year of birth, though the General’s side has contended that he was issued a threat of disciplinary action by his seniors, forcing him to give such an undertaking under duress.