Gen Singh loses age battle

Withdraws plea after SC rules DoB in UPSC document is 1950

Gen Singh loses age battle

Army chief General V K Singh has lost the battle with the government over the issue of his age. The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the assertion of the government that Gen Singh was indeed born on May 10, 1950 and not a year later, as claimed by him.

Thus, the apex court put an end to the controversy surrounding the age of the Army chief who would have otherwise served till March 31, 2013, had his plea been accepted and adjudicated in his favour. He is now slated to retire on May 31, 2012.

A bench of Justices R M Lodha and H L Gokhale convinced Gen Singh’s counsel senior advocate U U Lalit to concede ground by noting in its order that he did not “wish to pursue the petition” seeking declaration of his date of birth as May 10, 1951.

The court also told Gen Singh that he could not “resile” from his statements given on January 30, 2008, and November 12, 2009, acquiescing to the government fixing his date of birth as May 10, 1950.

“It is observed that the question before this court is not determination of actual date of birth of the petitioner (gen Singh) but it concerns the recognition of a particular date of birth by respondent (government) in official service records,” the bench said. But the bench pointed out that all documents at “threshold” when Gen Singh joined the National Defence Academy and the IMA recorded his date of birth as May 10, 1950, which the Ministry of Defence maintains is part of the official records.

Observing that all threshold documents show Gen Singh's date of birth as May 10, 1950, the bench said it was clear from most documents that the Army chief’s date of birth is May 10, 1951, but the question was that in primary documents his birth year is 1950 and it would be considered as a final date for service matters.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati stated that the response of the government on Singh’s petition has not questioned the “integrity and bona fide of the petitioner”.
“We are happy that the issue has been finally resolved and the controversy has been put to rest,” defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said in an official reaction to the Supreme Court decision.

The Army chief did not offer any comment as he left for an interaction with officers of the South Western Command in Jaipur in the afternoon after the court verdict.

During the three-hour-long hearing, the bench tried to reason out with Gen Singh’s counsel that there was no “malice” on the part of government and there should not be any “injustice” with him.

“We take pride in having officers like you. You have every right to agitate or put your grievances before us. It was unfortunate and inadvertent act on your part at the time of entry,” the bench said.

“We want to ensure as chief of Army, you continue to serve the country as you did for 38 years. This verdict should not come in your way. Wise men are those who move with the wind,” the bench added.

Lalit submitted that the chief would resign within 48 hours if the government accepted his date of birth as May 10, 1951.

“The recognition of your date of birth did not suffer from any perversity. In good sense we want to know from you whether you want to withdraw your petition. We have examined the entire record. No prejudice was done to you. Government has full faith in you. It is not a question of determining the date of birth. How does it help you?” the bench asked.

Lalit, however, maintained that year 1950 was not supported by primary document.

The AG informed the bench that the government was ready to partially withdraw December 30, 2011 order rejecting Gen Singh’s statutory complaint on his date of birth, which the court had earlier termed as “impermissible”.

Before taking a 10-minute break to resume hearing on the matter, the court asked
Lalit to seek instruction whether he wanted to withdraw or the bench would hear arguments in details and pass orders.

As the court resumed hearing again at 2 pm, it was clear that the Army chief had no option but to withdraw the petition.

Hopefuls’ gallery

Lt Gen Bikram Singh:
GOC-in-C, Eastern Command. Commissioned in 1972 in Sikh Light Infantry Regiment. Over 38 years of service. If selected, will be the first Sikh officer after Gen J J Singh to be Army chief.

Lt Gen S R Ghosh:
GOC-in-C, Western Command. Commissioned in June 1972 in Brigade of Guards. Commanded a brigade on the LoC. Was in AG branch in 2007; handled Gen Singh’s date of birth issue.

Lt Gen V K Ahluwalia:
GOC-in-C, Central Command. Commissioned on November 14, 1971 in the Artillery Regiment. An aviator with Army Aviation, he was a Corps commander in Leh, close to the LAC.

Lt Gen A K Singh:
GOC-in-C, Southern Command. Commissioned in June 1973 in the 7th Light Cavalry,  which he later commanded. He also commanded the first T-90 brigade during Operation Parakram.

* One of the above: The government has the option of picking any one of the seven Army Commanders, which means three other GOCs from Northern, South Western and Training commands (ARTRAC) also have the chance.

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