In the first instance of a serving Army chief speaking out against a predecessor and a serving minister, General Dalbir Singh, Chief of Army Staff, has accused General (retired) V K Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, of trying to stall his promotion “with mysterious design, malafide intent and to arbitrarily punish” him for “extraneous reasons”.
In an affidavit submitted in his personal capacity to the Supreme Court Wednesday, General Dalbir Singh has said that in 2012 “I was sought to be victimised by the then COAS” General V K Singh “with the sole purpose of denying me promotion to the appointment of Army Commander”.
“False, baseless and imaginary allegations of lapses were levelled against me in the show cause notice” of May 19, 2012 and consequent imposition of an “illegal” discipline and vigilance (DV) ban, the Army chief has stated in his affidavit.
The affidavit was filed in response to a petition moved by Lt Gen (retd) Ravi Dastane who alleged favouritism in Dalbir Singh’s selection as Army Commander, making him next in line to succeed General Bikram Singh.
Dalbir Singh was placed under a DV ban by V K Singh between April and May 2012 for alleged “failure of command and control” after a Court of Inquiry was ordered into an operation carried out in Jorhat, Assam on the night of December 20-21, 2011 by the 3 Corps Intelligence and Surveillance Unit.
Dalbir Singh was then General Officer Commanding of the Dimapur-based 3 Corps. Referring to the Jorhat operation in his affidavit, he has stated “on that day, I was away on part of annual leave and rejoined duty on 26 Dec 2011”.
His promotion as GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, with effect from June 15, 2012 was cleared by General Bikram Singh who reversed the DV ban after V K Singh retired on May 31, 2012.
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 Dalbir Singh despite the latter being under a DV ban at the relevant time.
In February 2012, months before he moved against Dalbir Singh, V K Singh had lost his legal battle on the age row in Supreme Court which held that the government’s decision on his date of birth would apply to his service matters, prompting him to withdraw his petition. The court told V K Singh that he could not go back on the commitment he made to abide by the government decision to treat his date of birth as May 10, 1950 and rejected the contention of “prejudice” and “perversity” against him.
In his affidavit in response to Dastane’s petition, Dalbir Singh has mounted a direct attack on V K Singh: “The passing of directions for initiating administrative action against me after about one month of having already finalised the Court of Inquiry smacks of a motivated, biased, arbitrary and malicious intent to punish me which the then COAS executed apparently as planned by him.”
He has underlined it is now “revealed clearly that the imposition of DV ban and issue of show cause notice to me by the then COAS was illegal and premeditated”.
“Despite their being no evidence against me at the Court of Inquiry, the show cause notice was issued malafidely. no material whatsoever of attendant circumstances was provided to me. The show cause notice issued, beside suffering from vagueness, was premeditated and also against the principles of natural justice,” his affidavit states.
He has pointed out that V K Singh, in his order on April 23, 2012, recommended “action against some officers of the Eastern Command without recommending any action to be taken against Respondent No. 3 (Dalbir Singh)… how and on what basis he had changed his mind on 18.05.2012 is not forthcoming”.
Stating he was “victimised for extraneous reasons”, he said the “illegal imposition of DV ban” could not be made a basis for Dastane to challenge his appointment as Army Commander. “In fact, it is the answering respondent (Dalbir Singh) who is the victim and not the appellant (Dastane),” his affidavit states.
Referring to the reply filed by the Ministry of Defence in June 2014, Dalbir Singh’s affidavit states “it is now clearly established that the authorities, including the Government of India, Ministry of Defence were satisfied of gross injustice meted out to me and my honour and military reputation including my innocence…”.
The Ministry, in its affidavit, had not only rejected Dastane’s challenge but also censured the manner in which V K Singh had placed Dalbir Singh under the DV ban saying “the entire exercise to issue show cause notice was premeditated and as per records, the directions issued in this regard, including imposition of the DV ban and issue of show cause notice, were found to be illegal”.