The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear in July a plea seeking to stall the appointment of Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag as next Army chief. The petition, filed by Lt General Ravi Dastane, was earlier fixed to be heard in September.
A vacation bench led by Justice Vikramjit Sen agreed to prepone the hearing after Dastane’s counsel pleaded for urgency in the matter in view of the facts that Dastane was retiring on August 31 while Suhag’s appointment as Army chief takes effect from August 1.
The counsel said that Suhag’s selection as Army commander was already challenged in the main petition and if this selection is set aside, Suhag’s appointment as next Army chief would also be struck down.
The bench then fixed the matter in the second week of July to hear the plea to stay Suhag’s appointment as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). The UPA II government had approved Suhag as the chief-designate — incumbent General Bikram Singh retires on July 31. The convention has been to name a successor two months in advance.
As first reported by the Indian Express, the case had witnessed a twist after the government had defended Army vice chief Suhag’s promotion as Army commander — entitling him to be the next Army chief — and described the disciplinary ban on him by then Army chief and now Minister of State Gen (retd) V K Singh as “illegal”, “extraneous” and “premeditated”.
In the Modi government, V K Singh is a Minister of State with Development of North Eastern Region (independent charge), External Affairs, Overseas Indian Affairs as his portfolios.
Responding to a petition by Lt Gen Ravi Dastane, who alleged favouritism in selection of Dalbir Singh Suhag as Army commander — making him next in line to succeed General Bikram Singh — the Ministry of Defence, in its affidavit to the Supreme Court, said that the disciplinary proceedings against Suhag between April and May 2012 by then chief V K Singh was “without any basis or material on record”.
Suhag was placed under a Disciplinary and Vigilance (DV) ban by V K Singh for alleged “failure of command and control” in an operation carried out by an intelligence unit working directly under Suhag, the then Dimapur-based 3 Corps commander.
But Suhag’s promotion as Army commander was cleared by Gen Bikram Singh a fortnight after V K Singh retired, by reversing the ban. This delayed promotion, after reserving the vacant Army commander’s post for 15 days, was challenged by Dastane in the Supreme Court. He contended he was eligible to be Army commander but was denied the opportunity by General Bikram Singh who favoured Suhag despite the latter being placed under a ban at the relevant time.
The affidavit filed continued…