Pleasant outcome

The Supreme Court has done well to resolve the controversy over army chief Gen VK Singh’s age  without hurting both sides in the dispute – the general who wanted his date of birth to be accepted as May 10, 1951 and not 1950, and the government which rejected his request.

Strictly speaking, the court did not pronounce a judgment but created a situation where the general could honourably withdraw his claim and the government could accept it without grudge. It did not reject his contention that he was born an year earlier than what was accepted as his date of birth in the army records. But it did not think it was necessary to correct the record because he had under certain circumstances accepted the record, though he had tried to get it changed many times. 

From the point of view of actual outcome it may be felt that the army chief, who took his case to the court after the government refused to act on his claim, lost his case. But when he approached the court, Gen V K Singh had made it clear that he was not concerned with a longer tenure in office but was taking the step to uphold his honour and that of the army. The court maintained that it did not have any doubt about his integrity and the government, through the attorney general, said its decision to contest the case was on the basis of principle and it did not cast a shadow over the general’s conduct and ability. Perhaps it was inadvisable for Gen VK Singh to try to get a judicial decision in his favour. Considering the high position that he holds it would have been better if he had accepted the government’s position with grace.

There is a view that the outcome of the case has made the continuance of Gen Singh as army chief untenable. This need not be so as both the court and the government have not found any fault with him. The career of a good and much-decorated army officer should not end unnaturally. The controversy and its resolution should prompt the army establishment and other offices to ensure that service matters do not linger without decision for long. Gen Singh’s case has highlighted the unsavoury consequences of lack of timely settlement of such matters.

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