Supreme Court trips army chief in age row battle


New Delhi : Indian Army chief General V.K. Singh suffered a blow Friday in the Supreme Court, forcing him to withdraw his plea demanding that his birth date be treated as May 10, 1951 and not 1950 as the government maintains.

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Judges R.M. Lodha and H.L. Gokhale made it clear that his date of birth would continue to be May 10, 1950 and not May 10, 1951 as mentioned in his school leaving certificate.

“The question before us is not about determination of the actual date of birth but it concerns recognition of a particular date of birth by the government in official service records,” they ruled,

The court room was packed with over 100 lawyers and others, eager to follow every bit of an unprecedented legal battle that pitted the chief of a 1.13-million-strong army against the government.

While holding that Gen Singh had agitated from day one to correct his birth date, the judges said in all primary documents the date of birth had been mentioned as May 10, 1951.

These include his application form to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to join the National Defence Academy, that of the Indian Military Academy and the army list.

After two and half hours of hearing, the court gave Gen Singh’s counsel a brief adjournment to explore the option of withdrawing his petition. Left with little elbow room, the army chief did precisely that.

A defence ministry spokesman said: “We are happy the matter has been resolved amicably and the issue put to rest.”

Gen Singh’s lawyer Puneet Bali echoed the sentiment, telling reporters the dragging row has been “gracefully” resolved.

Bali said Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati’s statement that the government had not questioned the integrity of the army chief was enough to satisfy them. “The matter has been resolved amicably and gracefully.”

He said the army chief had repeatedly maintained that he was fighting for his “integrity and honour” and not to seek an extension of his tenure that ends May 31 this year.

“This was the only battle we were fighting,” Bali said. “The honour and integrity have been restored. It is not about tenure. We are absolutely satisfied.

“Once the attorney general’s statement has been made, nothing remains. We are clear in our mind.

“We do not want to agitate further… It is the end of the matter.”

The army chief went to the Supreme Court Jan 16 insisting he was actually born May 10, 1951, not a year earlier as claimed by the government.

Hearing his petition at the admission stage Friday, the apex court asked the army chief to honour his letters of 2008 and 2009 accepting 1950 as his birth year.

It noted that the government order recognizing his birth year as 1950 does not suffer from any perversity.

The court said there was no prejudice vis-a-vis Gen Singh and that the government had full faith in him.

Earlier, the government told the court that it had withdrawn a Dec 30, 2011 order rejecting Gen. Singh’s plea to reconcile his birth date to May 10, 1950 — which prompted him to move the court.

The discrepancy in Gen Singh’s age was pointed out by the Military Secretary’s branch in 2006 when he was considered for promotion as corps commander.

Since then, all his promotions, including as army chief in 2010, were made on the basis that he was born in 1950.

If 1950 is taken as Gen. Singh’s year of birth, he would have to retire in May. If the year is taken as 1951, he would retire in March 2013.