The Supreme Court on Monday refused to stall the appointment of Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag as next Army chief.
The court said that the petition, filed by Lt General Ravi Dastane pertained to his appointment as army commander and hence issues relating to appointment of army chief did not have to be dealt with at this stage.
A bench led by Justice T S Thakur declined the plea to issue any interim order even as Atrorney General Mukul Rohatgi opposed Dastane’s application to stay the appointment.
Earlier, Dastane’s counsel had 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 had 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.
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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 Dastane, who alleged favouritism in selection of Suhag as Army commander — making him next in line to succeed General Bikram Singh — the Ministry of Defence, in its affidavit to the SC, had 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, has been challenged by Dastane in the 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.
A day after this report was published, V K Singh had hit back by attacking Suhag who is now the Army chief designate, accusing him of trying to protect a unit that “kills innocents,” and “does dacoity.” Singh had tweeted: “If unit kills innocents, does dacoity and then head of organization tries to protect them, should he not be blamed? Criminals should go free!!’
The affidavit and the subsequent reaction by V K Singh provided the Congress and other parties an opportunity to embarrass the new government by demanding removal of Singh. This development further compelled Defence Minister Arun Jaitley to make a statement in the floor ofthe upper house that Suhag’s appointment was final and that issues relating to selection and appointment in the Army should not be politicised.