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Age row of Indian Army chief Gen Vijay Kumar Singh

Army chief Gen Vijay Kumar Singh dragged the government to the Supreme Court on 16.01.2012 by challenging it over the festering issue of his date of birth (DoB). The row has pitted the senior-most officer of the 1.13-million-strong army, the worlds second largest, against the government, a first in independent India.

In a combative yet emotional writ petition in the apex court, Gen Singh argued his fight to get his DoB corrected from May 10, 1950 to May 10, 1951, was a matter of his personal and professional honour, which he said was very dear to him as a soldier who has served the country bravely, without fear or favour. Its all about honour and integrity, not tenure, said Gen Singh, hurt by the repeated insinuations that he was attempting to secure an additional year of service at the fag end of his career. In his petition, which is likely to be heard on Friday or next week, he has solemnly declared that as per his date of birth of May 10, 1951, he is due to retire only on March 31, 2013, after completing a three-year tenure. General V K Singh has promised in his writ petition before the Supreme Court that he would not take advantage of the correction and retire as scheduled on May 31, 2012. All he wanted of the court, said Gen Singh, was to protect his honour, which was fundamental to a soldiers life, by making his year of birth 1951. Coming as it did a day after Army Day and Gen Singh himself trying to play down the row, the Army chiefs unprecedented step sent shock waves across South Block with Defence Ministry(MoD) mandarins going into a hurdle. Sources said the MoD, which allowed the controversy to fester for far too long, was fully ready to join the legal battle with Gen Singh, who is brandishing his school-leaving certificate and other documents to buttress his age claims. Armed with its set of documents, the MoD has time and again held Gen Singhs DoB will stand at May 10, 1950. The controversy has seen MoD thrice refer the issue to AG, who returned identical opinions disagreeing with the Army chiefs contentions. Technically, Gen Singhs DoB is crucial since it will decide when he has to retire, impacting the entire line of succession in the 1.13-million strong force. If it remains 1950, then he would hang up his boots on May 31, clearing the way for Eastern Army commander Lt Gen Bikram Singh to become the next Army chief, as MoD wants. But if its settled at 1951, then Northern Army commander Lt Gen K T Parnaik could take over since Gen V K Singh could continue in office till March 2013 (even though he has averred to the contrary), while Lt Gen Bikram Singh will retire this year. Meanwhile, seniormost serving Lt Gen, Western Command chief Shankar Ghosh, has also jumped into the fray, as reported by TOI. A service chief can serve for three years or up to 62 yrs, whichever is earlier.

The raging legal battle between Indian Army chief Gen. VK Singh and the government over his age sets an unhealthy precedent, minister of state for defence MM Pallam Raju said in New Delhi on 18.01.2012. It is not a healthy precedent either for the ministry or the armed forces. It is not a matter for public debate and like I said, its an unhealthy precedent, Raju told reporters. The army chief moved the Supreme Court on Monday after the ministry in December rejected his statutory complaint requesting the change of his year of birth in official records to 1951 from 1950. A day later, the defence ministry filed a caveat in the apex court, urging it to not pass any order on the generals petition before hearing the government. The Supreme Court may refer the case to the Armed Forces Tribunal or to a lower court. Gen VK Singhs date trouble: 1965: Date of Birth (DoB) filled as May 10, 1950, in UPSC application form (Gen Singh says it was done by a school teacher) 1967/68: Gen Singh submits school certificate showing 1951 as year of birth 1974-75: Army List published showing 1950 The age row: Timeline Armys Adjutant General branch records DoB as May 10, 1951, but Military Secretarys branch records it as May 10, 1950 2002: Gen Singh demands the differing records be reconciled 2006: Gen Singh is promoted to Lt-Gen rank, says he was forced to give an undertaking accepting 1950 as the year of birth 2008: When he is promoted as Army Commander, he gives an undertaking again to maintain 1950 as his year of birth, but Gen Singhs supporters say it was extracted under coercion Early 2010: Just before his appointment as the chief in April, Gen Singh writes to then Army chief and defence secy, saying the issue was a closed chapter October 2010: An RTI application is filed by an IAS officer seeking Army chiefs birth date. It is referred to legal adviser to MoD, who says the chief was born in 1951 May 6, 2011: MoD objects to being bypassed in seeking legal opinion and Army HQs efforts to correct records

May 2011: Army chief petitions MoD on the issue, demands reconciliation of his DoB July 2011: MOD rejects the demand, based on Attorney Generals opinion August 2011: Gen Singh files a statutory complaint with defence minister AK Antony December 2011: MoD rejects the statutory complaint, based on Attorney Generals opinion January 16, 2012: Gen Singh moves SC Opposition Party targets Government Political parties on 17.01.2012 attacked the government for its failure in handling the controversy over Army chief General V K Singhs age after the latter approached the Supreme Court on the issue. The matter relating to the age of the Army chief shows the failure of statecraft of the Government of India, said BJPs chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad. The Army is a very important institution of India of which the entire country is proud. The dignity and decorum are important hallmarks of this institution. Such a serious matter ought to have been handled amicably by the government internally instead of allowing it to come in public domain and resultant court proceedings, he said. The SP too came down heavily on the government. It is very unfortunate that the government has failed to resolve this issue. It should have taken it as an extraordinary issue and dealt with it with utmost sincerity and sensitivity to avoid this situation beforehand. The government should avoid taking any hasty steps in this matter and should still try to resolve this issue with seriousness, party general secretary Mohan Singh said. The Left parties were of the view that the issue should not be politicised. CPI general secretary A B Bardhan said, The issue should not be politicised. There is difference between the government and the Army chief over his date of birth. It should have been sorted out earlier and that too amicably without coming into the public domain. This is an unseemly controversy. He, however, added that the Army chiefs decision to go to court amounted to challenging the government. Right to retire with dignity An Army Chief has a right to retire with dignity, Gen VK Singh has pleaded before the Supreme Court while accepting the governments right to determine his tenure. Gen Singhs unprecedented action in dragging the government to the apex court followed the ministrys insistence that May 10, 1950 would be treated his official date of birth and that he would consequently retire on May 31, 2012.

Gen Singh stated that the governments action and conduct in refusing to accept his contention on his birth date was affecting his image before the general public and the armed forces. It was his right to have a dignified life, he pleaded in the petition, adding that an army chief has a right to retire with dignity. Referring to the ministrys orders of December 30 and earlier rejecting his case, the Army Chief has said that these orders have conveniently ignored his matriculation certificate, entire service record including entry into service, promotions and annual confidential reports. He has stated that being a highly decorated officer, he had received all his awards, decorations and promotions as per the date of birth being 10.5.1951. Gen Singh has enclosed voluminous documents and records with the petition in support of his stand that his year of birth was 1951. However, he has said that in an application dated 29.7.1965 for admission to National Defence Academy (NDA) course he had, as a 14-year school boy, inadvertently filled his date of birth as 10.5.1950. Gen Singh said Military Secretarys Branch (MS Branch), one of the departments of the army, somehow now claims that his date of birth is May 10, 1950 while the same department while processing his name for the gallantry awards reflected the year of birth as 1951. He said the Adjutant Generals Branch (AG Branch) being the official record keepers of the Indian Army maintains the year of birth as 1951. The Army Chief said he had only sought harmonisation of the records of the two departments and his request was erroneously construed as request for change of birth and was wrongly turned down by the two orders. He said he has had impeccable service record and has been decorated for his exemplary and meritorious service. In a service where discipline and respect for seniors is one of the important feature, the controversy has been given undue publicity and coverage in the media. Citing a judgement of the apex court in Kochunni verus State of Madras in 1959, Gen Singh said the court has categorically said that an application under Article 32 of the Constitution cannot be refused merely on the ground that such an application has been made to the Supreme Court in the first instance without resort to High Court or there is some adequate alternative remedy available to him. It was further held in that judgement that the right to move the Supreme Court for the purpose of enforcing the fundamental rights itself is a fundamental right.

PM steers clear; Gen Singh meets MoS Defence Even as controversy continued to rage over army chief Gen VK Singhs date of birth, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 19.01.2012 steered clear of making any comment, contending that the matter was sensitive. His evasiveness on the issue came on the eve of hearing by the Supreme Court of a organisation in support of Gen Singh. It was not clear whether a petition filed by Gen Singh himself would come up on 20.1.2012. It is a sensitive issue. I do not want to comment, the Prime Minister said on the sidelines of a function to launch the book The Tribune 130 (rpt) 130 Years: A Witness to History. He was asked about the controversy surrounding the age of army chief who has dragged the government to the Supreme Court to seek a direction that his date of birth on military records be treated as May 10, 1951 and not 1950. Meanwhile, the army chief met minister of state for defence MM Pallam Raju, a day after the latter expressed unhappiness over the matter being taken to court. It was not clear as to what transpired at the unscheduled meeting between Raju and Gen Singh but it is believed to have been arranged to clarify things. It is an unfortunate development and it is not a healthy precedent either for the (Defence) Ministry or the armed forces It is an unhealthy precedent. It does not auger well either for the Ministry or the forces, Raju had said on Wednesday while reacting to a question on the issue. Gen Singh moved the Supreme Court on 16.01.2012 challenging the governments rejection of his claim on his date of birth. The Defence Ministry had recently rejected his contention that he was born in 1951 and not in 1950. In its recent order, the Ministry has taken his date of birth as May 10, 1950, and not May 10, 1951, which the General has claimed as real as per his matriculation certificate. An organisation The Grenadiers Association, Rohtak Chapter, had earlier filed an application in the apex court in support of Gen Singh. It is slated to come up on 20.1.2012. In his own petition, the army chief has contended that he was treated by the government in a manner which reflects total lack of procedure and principles of natural justice in deciding his age. In his 68-page petition, Gen Singh has challenged the governments illegal and arbitrary rejection of his Statutory Complaint to defence minister AK Antony on December 30 last for accepting May 10, 1951 as his date of birth. He has termed it as violation of his fundamental rights.

Seeking the quashing of this order, the Army Chief has pleaded that the government be directed to treat May 10, 1951 as his date of birth and grant all consequential reliefs thereto. The respondent (government) needs to explain as to why the senior most officer of the Army could be treated in a manner which reflects total lack of procedure and principles of natural justice and that too on an opinion obtained from the Attorney General, his petition said. Gen Singh also wondered as to why the Ministry of Defence would doubt the records in the Adjutant Generals branch, the official record-keeper of the Army, has not been explained. Nor has any authority while rejecting his plea for treating his date of birth as 10.5.1951 ever doubted the birth certificate of the petitioner. Army chief age row: Govt files caveat in SC on petition Government on 17.01.2012 filed a caveat in the Supreme Court against any ex-parte order on the petition of Army chief Gen V K Singh challenging the decision over his date of birth. An application was filed by the ministry of defence urging the apex court not to pass any order on Singhs petition without hearing it. The caveat as filed through counsel T A Khan. SC trashes PIL on Army Chiefs age The Supreme Court (SC) on 20.01.2012 rejected a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by an exservicemen association seeking a direction to the Union government to accept the outgoing army chiefs date of birth as May 10, 1951. Several factual errors in the PIL contributed to it being dismissed. This dismissal, however, is not expected to impact General VK Singhs petition. It is purely a service matter, a three-judge bench headed by chief justice SH Kapadia told The Grenadiers Association (Rohtak Chapter), questioning its right to file a petition in the name of PIL relating to an individual officers age dispute. They said a writ petition by the aggrieved person (Gen Singh) on the age issue is pending before the court. Lawyers representing the government and Gen Singh kept a close watch on the proceedings. The judges questioned the petitioners lawyer, Bhim Singh, as to how a PIL could be filed in such a case and whether any legal precedent has been set when a service matter is accepted to serve the public interest. They grilled the petitioner on filing a PIL annexing newspaper clippings and opinions of four former CJIs. It is most improper and it is most unfortunate. We will not consider the opinion of former CJIs, the judges said, making it clear that they were not concerned with the opinions. We are not here to fix the age of the army chief. This is purely a service matter. Why you are

putting opinion of former CJIs in the court? Why should the opinion be annexed to the petition? We are on the very limited issue. In an order the court said, In our view, writ petition of this nature at the behest of the association is not maintainable. Accordingly, this writ petition is dismissed as not maintainable We express no opinion on the merits. The registry is directed not to accept writ petition(s) without raising objection in cases where opinions of retired judges are annexed to the writ petition. The registry will carry out this direction in all matters. Supreme Court upholds govt. decision on Army Chiefs age In a setback to Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh, the Supreme Court on 10.02.2012 upheld the government decision on his age issue and said he cannot resile on his commitment accepting the date of birth as May 10, 1950, forcing him to withdraw his petition. The Supreme Court said it was not in favour of entertaining Gen. Singhs petition that his date of birth should be treated in official records as May 10,1951 and gave him the option of withdrawing it. The court held that no prejudice was done to Gen. Singh and the government decision on his date of birth will continue to be there. In view of this, Gen. Singh will have to retire on May 31, 2012. The Supreme Court noted that the government has full faith in him and that the court wanted to ensure that he continues to work as the Army Chief as he has been doing. Gen. Singh has to abide by his commitment and honour his letters of 2008 and 2009 accepting the date of birth as May 10, 1950, the court said during hearing for over two hours in a packed court room. Finally, Gen. Singh withdrew his petition when the court hearing resumed at 2 p.m. after the lunch recess. Govt. withdraws December 30, 2011 order Earlier, at the start of the hearing, Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati informed the court that government has withdrawn its December 30, 2011 order rejecting Gen. Singhs statutory complaint on his age issue.