Navy officer withdraws AFT plea on being overlooked

Navy officer withdraws AFT plea on being overlooked

Vice Admiral Bimal Verma, Commander in Chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Command on Tuesday withdrew his petition questioning the Centre's decision of appointing his junior Vice Admiral Karambir Singh as the next Navy Chief after Armed Forces Tribunal told him to explore the internal options first before coming to the AFT.

Adm Verma moved the tribunal on the ground that the government ignored the seniority principle while picking up the next Navy Chief.

The AFT members Justice Virender Singh and Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra (rtd) didn't go into the merit of the case but conveyed to Adm Verma's lawyers that the Navy Commander had not exhausted his statutory rights under the law. Adm Verma was not present in the court.

Following the AFT directive, Admiral Verma – represented by his lawyer daughter Rhea Verma and senior advocate Ankur Chhibber – withdrew the petition. “We will appeal to the Defence Minister to look into the issue,” Rhea said.

In March, the Centre appointed Vice Adm Karambir Singh as the next Chief of the Naval Staff on superannuation of Admiral Sunil Lanba on May 31, 2019. Vice Adm Karambir Singh would be the first helicopter pilot of the Indian Navy to be appointed as the Navy Chief.

Verma moved the AFT seeking to know why he was overlooked as the next Navy Chief, despite being the senior-most officer in the Navy at the time of the Adm Lanba's retirement. Singh is six months junior to Verma.

The judges asked the government counsel whether it was possible for the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet to review the appointment of Admiral Singh.

When the government lawyer responded in affirmative, the judges asked Admiral Verma to exercise the statutory options first and return to the AFT only if he felt he didn't get the justice in the standard route.

This is not the first time the NDA government ignored the seniority principle in higher defence appointments.

In 2016, Lt Gen Bipin Rawat was appointed as the next Army Chief superseding two seniors – Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi and Le Gen P M Hariz. Both accepted the government decisions and continued in their positions as Eastern and Southern Army Commanders till their retirement.