New Delhi : In a first such instance in India’s history, Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh Monday took the government to court over the issue of his age.
The general moved the Supreme Court after the defence ministry in December rejected his statutory complaint, requesting change of his year of birth in official records to 1951 from 1950, by which he would be due to retire this year.
This is the first time that the chief of the 1.13-million-strong army – the world’s second largest – has taken the government that appointed him to the post to court while still in service.
According to sources, the army chief has, in his petition, challenged the rejection of his statutory complaint by the defence ministry and has sought relief from the court on the matter.
The writ petition by Gen. Singh comes just a day after the 64th Army Day Sunday and four days after the combative army chief maintained that the age issue was a matter of “integrity and honour” for him and indicated that all his options were open.
With the writ petition filed, the days to come will witness a bitter legal battle.
The court, which will take up the petition, will have to decide if it will admit the plea, issue notices to the respondents and may also decide on an interim relief to the chief if it finds merit in his petition.
The government, which appointed him the army chief April 1, 2010, had stuck to its decision maintaining his birth date as May 10, 1950. As per that appointment order, he will have to retire on May 31 this year.
If Gen. Singh’s plea is accepted and he get another 10 months in service it would alter the succession line.
If his plea to hold his year of birth as 1951 is acceded to, the baton of the chief may pass on to present Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. K.T. Parnaik in April 2013.
If he retires as per existing schedule on May 31 this year, then present Eastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh may be the next chief, as he would be the senior-most lieutenant general in service at that time.
The adjutant general branch of the army headquarters, the official record keeper, holds that his year of birth is 1951. On the contrary, the military secretary branch, dealing with postings and promotions, maintains that it is 1950.
The issue had first cropped up in 2006 when Gen. Singh was being considered to command an army corps. Present Arunachal Pradesh Governor Gen (retired) J.J. Singh was then the army chief.
The matter was again up for a debate in 2008 and 2010 when he was being considered for promotion as an army commander and army chief respectively.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony had six months ago told parliament that on the three occasions his date of birth was maintained as May 10, 1950, and hence he will retire on May 31, 2012.
He also relied on a recommendation from the attorney general, who considered the request of Gen. Singh, not to accede to the plea at this stage in the top army officer’s career as it would invite a legal tangle and upset succession, which is based on the seniority principle.
Gen. Singh, though, is confident that his plea was on strong legal ground, as his records such as birth certificate, school leaving certificate and such have 1951 as the year of birth.
He had also sought opinion of from three former chief justices of India and a former solicitor general, who have favoured his plea.
Gen Singh also got support from several ex-servicemen outfits and retired personnel, including former Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, who wrote to Antony in this regard.