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Chief cleared press release against Tejinder Singh,Army tells govt

There was nothing improper about giving a verbal approval for issuing the release,says official.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published: May 8, 2012 3:44 am

An Army press release this March accusing Lt Gen. (retd) Tejinder Singh of bribery and spreading misinformation was issued after verbal approval by the Army’s top brass,including Army Chief Gen. V K Singh.

This was revealed in a letter sent to the defence ministry by the Army’s Additional Director General (Public Information) Major General S L Narasimhan in connection with the hearing of the criminal writ petition filed by Tejinder Singh in the Delhi High Court,asking for withdrawal of the alleged defamatory press release,and action against Gen. V K Singh and other officials involved.

The defence ministry is pleading the case for the government,including the Army. It was asked by the court at the last hearing to clarify if the impugned statement was issued by the ministry or some Army officials. Narasimhan’s letter is a part of internal communication to defence ministry officials handling court proceedings.

The letter,accessed by The Indian Express,spells out the role of the Army Chief in issuing the release on March 5-6. The release alleged that stories about the unauthorised surveillance of mobile phones of defence ministry officials were “put out” in the media by Tejinder Singh.

“The clarification by integrated Headquarter of the Ministry of Defence (Army) dated March 5,2012 was approved verbally along the chain of command through the Director General of Military Intelligence and Chief of Army Staff,” said the letter,No. A/810028/GEN/M/PI,endorsed by Narasimhan.

The government’s law officer appearing for the defence ministry did not,however,submit this letter in court during the hearing on Monday. He submitted another letter,which simply stated that the release was issued by the Army in accordance with its media policy.

This communication,handed by Additional Solicitor General A S Chandhiok to Justice Mukta Gupta,added that the press release was e-mailed to some mediapersons after consultation at the “highest level”.

A senior Army official involved in sending briefs to the defence ministry in the case confirmed that the two letters had been sent. Asked why only one letter was shown to the judge,the official said,“We had written these letters to the defence ministry in the wake of the petition pending in the court. It for them to decide what to show to the court and what not.”

The official said there was nothing improper about giving a verbal approval for issuing the release. “There are different forms of functioning within the Army. It is not mandatory to have written approvals in all cases and verbal nods are sufficient in certain cases,” he said.

The court appeared satisfied today with the letter that was submitted,and asked Tejinder Singh’s counsel Anil K Aggarwal to respond as to how the petition was maintainable as a writ. A writ petition involves invoking superior courts,and is viewed as an “extraordinary form of relief” which is utilized when no other form of adequate or speedy remedy is available under the law.

“You have alternative remedies in law. Civil suit is one of them. How do you make a writ petition maintainable in this court?” the court asked Aggarwal.

When Aggarwal replied that the writ petition was good in law since it involved breaching the petitioner’s fundamental right to reputation,Justice Gupta asked him if he had any Supreme Court precedent establishing right to reputation as a fundamental right.

“You come back prepared with answers what fundamental right you claim to have been violated and why this court should entertain your petition as a writ,” the judge said,fixing May 24 as the next date of hearing.

In his petition,besides Gen. V K Singh,Tejinder Singh has named Vice-Chief of Army Staff S K Singh,Lt Gen B S Thakur (DGMI) and Major General S L Narasimhan.

He has also filed a separate criminal defamation complaint in a magisterial court,seeking their prosecution under penal charges relating to defamation and false charge of offence made with intent to injure. The complaint will be heard on Tuesday.

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