The battle between chief of the Indian Army General VK Singh and the government over his age is moving at rapid-fire speed. The Prime Minister met Defence Minister AK Antony today as the government prepped the ground for its defense in the Supreme Court, where it will maintain that it has to treat 1950 as General Singh’s year of birth. The government has filed a caveat on the petition moved by General Singh yesterday – so while he has asked the court for an urgent review of the government’s decision, the government has requested that the court not pass any order without hearing the government.
General Singh yesterday became the first serving military chief to take the government to court.
In the Supreme Court, the government will defend its decision to use 1950 as the year of birth for the General. This date means that the chief has to retire at the end of May. Mr Singh has in his court petition asked the government to explain why it won’t accept his claim of being born in 1951. He also said that his case is to protect his honour and integrity, and is not aimed at extending his tenure. General Singh took over as Army chief on March 31, 2010. He says his correct date of birth is May 10, 1951. If this were accepted, technically he would be eligible for another year in the top office. Different documents with the Army list 1950 and 1951 for him. The government says that records which use 1950 super-cede the others, and were taken into account for different promotions that were granted to the chief.
The Congress defended the government’s stand and said it is for the courts to decide. “The Army Chief has taken a stand. Whether his stand is right or the government’s stand is right is not for you and me to decide but for the courts. The Chief himself has said that it is a personal issue and those in the Opposition who are trying to make this as Government versus Army is doing great disservice to the country,” said Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress Spokesperson.
General Singh has gone to the Supreme Court after all internal appeals to the Ministry of Defence were turned down. The government had in the last few weeks made it clear that it did not doubt Mr Singh’s claim. However, “rules are rules,” Law Minister Salman Khurshid told NDTV, pointing out that documents that incorrectly stated the General’s age should have been corrected earlier.
The dispute over General Singh’s age began in 2006 when a bureaucrat noticed two different dates in his records when his name came up from promotion and sought clarification from the Military Secretary’s branch which handles promotions. The Military Secretary’s branch had the year of birth down as 1950 and that’s what it shared with the Defence Ministry without cross-checking the date with Adjutant General’s branch, which is the official record keeper for the Army Officers.
In 2008, for another promotion, the Army Headquarters asked the General to accept 1950 as his official age, giving him 24 hours to do so or else face disciplinary action. The then Army Chief and the Military Secretary said that other people in the queue were also suffering due to the delay in this case. Faced with an ultimatum, General Singh wrote back the same day to say “Whatever decision is taken in the organization’s interest is acceptable to me.”