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Old 01-18-2012, 12:02 AM   #8

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Oct 2005
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Link Army Chief age row: Govt files caveat in Supreme Court

A day after Army Chief General V K Singh took his battle with the government over his age to the Supreme Court, the Government has filed a caveat in the Supreme Court.

Sources say the Ministry of Defence is consulting the Law Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office. Sources also say say that while all government employees have the right to seek legal help, certain positions merit absolute trust and should not be tarnished with an adversarial relationship. The court has so far not admitted General Singh's petition.

General Singh's unprecedented move has sparked off a debate on whether the Army's image as taken a hit. This is the first time that any service chief has fought the government in court and questions are being raised about the impact this could have on the institution and the armed forces. (Poll: Is the Army Chief right in taking on the govt?)

Some are also pointing out that this seemed like a case of putting self before service. "We don't need the Chief of Army Staff getting into a media debate," said defence analyst Lt Gen Shankar Prasad (retd). He added that the controversy had "hurt"the armed forces.

"Each one of us has been brought up in the Armed Forces, Army, navy and the Air Force to obey orders and it is considered a poor manner of behaviour if we question orders," he said.

But there are others who are hold the government equally responsible for the situation. "It was an unseemly controversy which should not have been allowed to reach this level. "said Major General G D Bakshi (retd), His argument: the government could have resolved the age issue at the time of General Singh's appointment as the Army Chief.

General Singh has questioned the government's decision to treat his date of birth as May 10,1950 instead of May 10,1951, which is listed in his school-leaving certificate and other documents. In his petition, the chief asks why the government has chosen to "change" his date of birth after 36 years in service with many promotions.

In months of back and forth and appeals, the Chief has exhausted all internal options to win his argument. The government's view means that General Singh will have to retire at the end of May; his petition does not clarify whether he seeks an extension in tenure. He took over as the Army Chief on March 31, 2010.

While some documents establish the chief's date of birth as 1950, others, like his entrance form for the National Defence Academy (NDA) state 1951. The government has said that though it has no doubts about General Singh's integrity, the documents that it has to abide by do not support his claim. "Just nobody...nobody should believe that the General has not spoken the truth," said Law Minister Salman Khurshid last week. But "rules are rules," he added.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party is asking why the government could not have handled this row better, the Congress has sought to distance itself from the controversy after General Singh filed the petition. "It is between the person who has gone to court and the court," said Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

Sources said that instead of reacting to General Singh's move, the government would prefer to argue its position in the Supreme Court when the petition comes up for hearing.

The General has said that he is concerned about "his honour and integrity" and not his tenure. In the past, General Singh has pointed out that the promotions he received were based on his seniority gauged as if his year of birth was 1951.

Attorney General GE Vahanvati has advised the government that changing the chief's records could create "large-scale disaffection in the Army."

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 organisation interest is acceptable to me."

The front-runner to replace him has so far been Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, the Eastern Army Commander. However, a court case accuses him of being involved in a fake encounter in in Anantnag in 2001, and has asked for a detailed investigation. Sources in the Defence Ministry say the timing of the case suggests a dark side to the succession race.
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