New Delhi: The Supreme Court will today hear Army chief General V K Singh's petition against the government over his age. General Singh, who has become the first serving Army chief to take the government to court - wants the court to decide how old he is. Here are ten big facts about the case:
1. What the dispute is all about? General VK Singh says he was born on May 10, 1951; the government says it has to go by documents that list his date of birth as May 10, 1950. General Singh's records within the Army show both dates. The General says he has tried several times to have the date corrected. But his requests were turned down. In December, the Defence Ministry ruled against him.
2. Last-minute attempts at truce: To avoid further embarrassment, both parties have been trying to work out a compromise. A meeting between General Singh and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee last evening provoked murmurs of an effort to break the impasse. But, sources told NDTV that a breakthrough couldn't be achieved.
3. Government stands firm: Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, the government has instructed the Army to correct all its records to uniformly reflect 1950 as General Singh's year of birth. The Army's official record-keeper is the Adjutant-General. The Ministry of Defence says that after General Singh's appeals were rejected, the Army is obliged to amend its documents.
4. So far, the Adjutant-General has not implemented the government's order. Sources say that the administrators in this branch say records cannot be changed even by an executive order - and officials want to be sure that the government's instructions are legally valid.
5. Is that a valid point? Yes, say experts, who point out that the government's instruction to the Army mean that all confidential records for General Singh, his pay book, driving license, passport and other documents will have to be amended.
6. Is this about his tenure? General Singh has said he wants to protect his honour and integrity - basically, have the government accept his claim, so it's clear that he did not try to misrepresent the facts. He also says that his battle is not about when he should retire. In his petition to the Supreme Court, he has said that he accepts that deciding his term is the sole prerogative of the government. But if the court were to accept 1951 as his date of birth, he would be eligible for another year as the head of the Army.
7. What is the government worried about? The Attorney General has advised the government that changing the records now could trigger "large-scale disaffection in the Army". An extension for General Singh in the top office would also alter the succession plans.
8. Some key documents: The General says his matriculation or school-leaving certificate shows 1951 as his date of birth and should be given considerable weight. However, his entrance form for the National Defence Academy (NDA) states 1950 as his year of birth - this is a document that the government says it cannot ignore. General Singh says it was a mistake which was corrected well in time.
But documents within the Army also show conflicting dates. At least two say General Singh was born on May 10, 1950; a majority - including his ID card, his service record, his medical reports and his promotions upto the rank of Lt. Gen say he was born on May 10, 1951. The government says that General Singh should have moved to have the changes in the records much earlier - rules say this must be done within two years of the documents being presented by the officer to the army. General Singh says he is not asking for change but only cirrection.
9. When did the differences crop up? 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 for 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 the Adjutant General's branch, which is the official record-keeper for army officers.
10. General Singh accepted 1950 date of birth: Govt In 2008, for another promotion, the Army Headquarters asked the General to accept 1950 as his official year of birth , 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's interest is acceptable to me."