Army chief loses court battle on age row (Roundup)

February 10th, 2012 - 10:17 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 10 (IANS) 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.

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.

Gen. Singh was in Jaipur on an official trip and is expected here Saturday. He did not react to the ruling. However, his senior counsel U.U. Lalit told the court that the general would retire May 31 as scheduled.

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.

Not to make it difficult for the general, Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati went out of his way to express the government’s trust in the man and asked him not to quit.

“We have full confidence and faith in his ability to lead the army and we hope and pray that this will not be an end to his service to the nation,” Vahanvati told the judges.

After two and a half hours, the court gave Gen Singh’s counsel a brief adjournment to explore the option of withdrawing his petition. The general did precisely that.

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

Lalit said: “The idea is not to stick to office. Gen Singh will go out of office as if he was born on May 10, 1950, and retire on May 31, 2012.”

Lalit’s aide Puneet Bali said the age row had been “amicably and gracefully” resolved. He said Vahanvati’s statement was enough to satisfy them.

“The honour and integrity have been restored. It is not about tenure. We are absolutely satisfied.

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

The army chief went to the Supreme Court Jan 16 insisting he was actually born May 10, 1951, not in 1950 as claimed by the government.

Earlier 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.

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.

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