Army chief loses age battle in SC; relief would have opened a Pandora's Box
Nipun Sehgal and Ankit Gupta, Star News Correspondents
Friday, 10 February 2012 13:53
Army chief General VK Singh. Photo: PTI.
New Delhi: The Army Chief General Vijay Kumar Singh's fight for his correct date of birth in Army records came to a crashing halt on Friday when the Supreme Court disposed his petition upholding the government's position. While the government maintains the General's date of birth as May 10, 1950 as it appears in the Adjutant General's records, the Chief has been contending that it should be corrected to May 10, 1951, as it appears in his birth certificate and Class X certificate. The Supreme Court made it clear that for service matters, the Army Chief's date of birth will be considered as 1950 while the General Singh was free to use 1951 in his other documents like driving license and passport.
The Supreme Court's focus on Friday was not about the pile of documents filed by the government to support its arguments or those filed by General Singh's team. In the three-hour long hearing Supreme Court asked General Singh wasn't the matter he was raising was too late in the day just ahead of his retirement. The Army Chief is due to retire on May 31 this year.
Chief's own Letter Proved Critical
In 2008, General Singh, then Lt Gen, was given a critical posting, that of the General Officer Commanding in Chief of Eastern Command. Even then General Singh was in age row with the Ministry of Defence. Just before the posting came, General Singh gave an undertaking to the Ministry of Defence that for service matters the government had the right to decide his correct date of birth. In Supreme Court on Friday, this very letter proved his nemesis.
The Supreme Court repeatedly asked General Singh's counsel why he was raising the issue now after he had left it to the government to decide way back in 2008. The Supreme Court asked General Singh why he could not get the date corrected in the last 35 years that he is in service.
The Supreme Court also asked him why he wrote a wrong date of birth in his National Defence Academy admission form in 1966 and again why he could not get it corrected when he arrived at the Indian Military Academy three years later.
It was not about documents
The Supreme Court did not go into the certificates and documents that were submitted by General Singh's legal team. While maintaining that the General may have a point in seeking a correction of his date of birth, the Supreme Court instead also questioned the very fitness of General Singh's decision to raise the issue after so many years, just before his retirement.
The hearing started with the government withdrawing its 30 December 2010 order in which the Ministry of Defence set General Singh's date of birth as May 10, 1950. But there after it was all down hill for the General. His emotional plea through his counsel that the Supreme Court should grant him 1951 as his correct date of birth and he will not stay in office even a day longer than his due retirement date could not help.
SC hails General as an outstanding officer
Despite the rejection, the Supreme Court paid rich tribute to his contribution to the Army and the nation. The Supreme Court put it on record that General Singh was an outstanding officer with highest standards of integrity and that as an Army officer he had achieved the best possible in his career. The government counsel also maintained that General Singh was an outstanding officer and the government trusted him fully.
"The matter has been amicably sorted out and both sides have shown great maturity. Supreme Court has done the best possible. We are fully satisfied. Our fight was never to extend General Singh's tenure," Punit Bali, another lawyer appearing for General Singh, said.
"The honour and integrity of the General has been restored. The government has been extremely gracious. For us it ends here," Bali said also informing that General Singh had decided not press the matter further.
Relief to Chief would have been dangerous
Observers feel the Supreme Court decision on Friday was the most fitting as any relaxation to the Army Chief would have opened a Pandora's Box across all armed and civil services with officers lining up to change their dates of birth.
"In higher government services, date of birth is the critical in deciding an officer's carrier path, promotion dates and retirement trajectory. Any relaxation today would have sent a very wrong signal among the armed forces officers, police officers, IAS and all other allied services that the date of birth can be changed even after three decades of service. Every service provides for a stipulated time for changing the records for any correction. Beyond that it should not be allowed. General Singh lost that time long ago," said a retired General.