Army chief takes govt to court over age dispute, cites 'honour and integrity'

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Army chief takes govt to court over age dispute, cites 'honour and integrity'
New Delhi:  Army Chief General VK Singh has taken his battle with the government over his age to the Supreme Court. This is the first time that any service chief has fought the government in court. Sources in the government 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 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 matriculation or school-leaving certificate 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.

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.

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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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