The Supreme Court took strong objection Friday on the ‘vitiated’ manner in which the Defence Ministry had gone about deciding Army chief General V K Singh’s date of birth.
A bench of Justices R M Lodha and H L Gokhale slammed the government for its December 30 order,in which the Defence Ministry overruled General V K Singh’s argument that his date of birth was May 10,1951 and not May 10,1950.
The government took Attorney General G E Vahanvati’s legal opinion on the issue and declared for the second time last year that his birth year would be considered as 1950 by the government.
The first time the government said General Singh’s age was 1950 was in two orders last July. It had sought the Attorney General’s legal opinion the first time too,who held the year should be 1950 and not 1951.
The apex court wondered why the government should go back to the same man for an opinion after General Singh complained to the Defence Ministry against last July’s order.
The Supreme Court held the entire process that led to the December 30 order was ”against the principles of natural justice”. The apex court sought to know why the government had taken the opinion of the Attorney General when he had already voiced last year that the Army chief’s birth year should be considered 1950. Why didn’t the government seek a fresh opinion,the court asked.
The court asked the Attorney General to seek the government’s opinion on what the Defence Ministry intended to do with the December 30 order whether it should withdraw it to pave the way for General Singh to approach the government again.
The government has exactly seven days the next hearing is on February 10 to withdraw the order. The court said it would quash the order otherwise for a fresh process to begin.
The court also dismissed the government’s contention that the Army chief should have approached the Armed Forces Tribunal and not the Supreme Court on the matter. The judges said General Singh was right in coming to them since those on the judicial panel of the AFT were junior to him.
The court said there were other remedies available to General Singh if the government withdraws its December 30 order. The bench however did not comment on the merits of General Singh’s argument.
General Singh has approached the apex court seeking a direction to the government to declare May 10,1951,as his date of birth in place of May 10,1950.
The bench was hearing General Singh’s plea which has accused the government of treating him in a shoddy manner,disregarding ‘procedure and principles of natural justice’ in deciding his age.
The Attorney General and the Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman defended the government action and said no prejudice is caused to General Singh.
Reacting to the court order,one of General Singh’s counsels Punit Bali said they were definitely happy with the order but would not go into the merits of the case since it was subjudice.
He said the main question raised by the court was whether the authority which once rejected the general’s statutory complaint can advise the government on the same issue.
General Singh took the unprecedented step of dragging the government to the apex court after the Defence Ministry insisted upon treating May 10,1950,as his official date of birth,necessitating his retirement on May 31 this year.
Challenging the government’s decision to determine May 10,1950,as his date of birth and not May 10,1951,General Singh,in a 68-page petition,maintained that his acceptance of 1950 as the year of his birth was given in good faith at the behest of the then chief of Army Staff and not due to agreement with the conclusion of the Military Secretary’s Branch.
“The respondent (government) needs to explain as to why the senior most officer of the Army could be treated in a manner which reflects total lack of procedure and principles of natural justice and that too on an opinion obtained from the Attorney General,” his petition said.
In his plea,the Army chief also wondered why the Ministry of Defence would doubt the records in the Adjutant General’s branch,the official record-keeper of the Army.
“One fails to understand as to why such importance is being given to an inadvertent mistake while filling up the UPSC form while ignoring the date of birth recorded in public record,” he said.
General Singh will have to retire from service if his date of birth is determined as May 10,1950.
General Singh stated that the government’s action and conduct in refusing to accept his contention on his birth date was affecting his image before the general public and the armed forces.
It was his right to have a “dignified life”,he pleaded in the petition,adding that an Army chief has “a right to retire with dignity”.
Referring to the ministry’s orders of December 30 and earlier rejecting his case,the Army Chief has said that these orders have “conveniently ignored” his matriculation certificate,entire service record including entry into service,promotions and annual confidential reports.
He has stated that being a highly decorated officer,he had received all his awards,decorations and promotions as per the date of birth being 10.5.1951.
The apex court had earlier dismissed a PIL on the age controversy filed by Rohtak-based Grenadiers Association.