New Delhi, Aug 7: The row over the age of Indian Army chief, Gen Vijay Kumar Singh, is far from settled. The army headquarters is now preparing a case to seek judicial review of the defence ministry's verdict on the army chief's age on the ground that it was not legally tenable, reports Mail Today.
On July 22, the ministry issued a seven- page order rejecting Singh's petition that he was born on May 10, 1951, and maintaining that May 10, 1950, would continue to be treated as his official date of birth.
While the adjutant general branch, the official record keeper, has put the defence ministry's order under scrutiny, Gen Singh has received fresh legal opinion in his favour from former chief justice R. C. Lahoti and former attorney general Gopal Subramanium.
The AG's branch had changed Gen Singh's birth date from May 10, 1950, to May 10, 1951, on February 25 this year on the basis of opinion given by the legal adviser ( defence) in reply to a right to information query.
The defence ministry has declared the order “ null and void and non est”. In his petition, which was rejected by the ministry, Gen Singh had attached the opinions of two former chief justices, G. B. Patnaik and J. S. Verma ( taken by Lt. General V. K. Chaturvedi, since retired), along with nine other documents supporting his case.
As it is emerging now, the army chief may not be heading for a direct showdown with the government but is keen to protect his integrity and honour, which have taken a hit as the age controversy was seen as an attempt to get his tenure extended.
If the judicial review is not granted, the only option left to him would be to plead the case in a court of law as an individual.
The age row, emanating from the two dates of birth as recorded in different branches at the army headquarters, was exploited in 2006 to settle what is believed to be a personality feud among the top army generals.
It culminated in Gen Singh's assurance that he would abide by whatever was in the interest of the service. This “ acceptance” paved the way for him to become the service chief.
The contention now is that he was virtually put on notice, as a communication from the military secretary branch on January 24, 2008, told him that “ if the reply ( is) not received by 1000 hours on 25 January, 2008, ( the) action deemed appropriate will be taken”.
This “ acceptance” was also taken as one of the grounds by the defence ministry to reject Singh's petition.
One of the other reasons given was: The UPSC form filled by the officer at the time of joining the Indian Military Academy on July 29, 1969, mentions the birth date as May 10, 1950.
Besides, the Army List as well as the “ nominal roll of brigadiers and above” in 2006 — when, with Gen J. J. Singh at the helm, he was considered for the position of corps commander — and the gazette notification also record the same date.
Curiously, the paramount card of the officer, which is placed before the promotion board as it contains all the records, in 2006 contained the date of birth as May 10, 1951, but army headquarters informed the government that it was “ incorrect”.
The headquarters is likely to base its position on the legal tenability of the ministry's order on an army order of 1973, which essentially says that the date of birth recorded in the Army List has to be verified with documents like matriculation and birth certificates, which never happened in Gen Singh's case.
The controversy, which first broke out in 2008, resurfaced again this year following an RTI query about Gen Singh's age.The army headquarters referred the matter to the defence ministry, which forwarded the matter to the law ministry for its opinion.