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Row over General V.K. Singh’s date of birth could disturb the Army’s line of succession

By Syed Nazakat

On taking over as the Army chief last year, General V.K. Singh recommended action against four general-ranked officers, including Lt-General Avadesh Prakash, in the Sukhna land case. Critics said he was unduly harsh, and it was seen as his way of saying that corruption would not be tolerated. Now, he himself is embroiled in a controversy over his date of birth.

 The controversy erupted when the dates of birth of top Army officers were sought under RTI. The Army headquarters sent the RTI applications to the defence ministry, which in March replied that Singh had two dates of birth. The adjutant general’s branch which deals with pensions has recorded his date of birth as May 10, 1951, while the military secretary has May 10, 1950. The discrepancy arose when Lt-Gen. Prakash was the military secretary. Prakash retired last year and is now awaiting court martial after an Army Court of Inquiry indicted him for influencing junior officers.

The Court of Inquiry was ordered by Gen. Singh when he was the Army commander, before taking over as chief on March 31, 2010. Besides other documents, Gen. Singh’s school leaving certificate, his record of service and his General Officer’s medical examination reports confirm his date of birth as May 10, 1951. Interestingly, his UPSC form for admission to theNationalDefenceAcademyand his record inIndianMilitaryAcademy, Dehradun, show the date of birth as May 10, 1950.

Some people, including retired generals, have demanded a probe and an MP wrote to Defence Minister A.K. Antony about the two dates of birth. The Army said there was a lobby at work to discredit V.K. Singh. Serving officers argued that he was born on May 10, 1951. The Army also tried to obtain the dossier of his father, late Col Jagat Singh, to verify the date of birth. But it could not be found, as it was destroyed 15 years after Jagat Singh’s retirement as stipulated by rules. Gen. Singh responded to the ‘birth controversy’ by lodging a complaint atDelhi’sTughlak Roadpolice station against an English news channel that had reported that he was born in 1949.   

Within the defence ministry many are surprised at the way the matter was handled by the Army and why it sought the views of two former Chief Justices of India after the law ministry had given its opinion that May 10, 1951, should be treated as Gen. Singh’s date of birth. “It was absolutely unnecessary. There was no need of it,” said a senior defence ministry official. “You cannot build a campaign on a service matter.” Both the former Chief Justices, J.S. Verma and G.B. Patnaik, have said that the government should treat May 10, 1951, as Singh’s correct date of birth. Verma, however, is unhappy with the Army’s decision to approach the attorney general for its opinion.

The tricky issue is that the row threatens to disturb the line of succession of the Army. If Gen. Singh retires in May 2012 (if 1950 is taken as his year of birth), then Eastern Army Commander Lt-Gen. Bikram Singh will succeed him. But if the year of birth is 1951, he will retire only in March 2013 and Northern Army Commander Lt-Gen. K.T. Parnaik would be his likely successor.

Given there are many conflicting records about the Army chief’s date of birth, Attorney General Goolam E. Vahanvati told the defence ministry that any change in the date of birth now may result in litigation. That hasAntonyin an  uncomfortable position.

 THE WEEK, 15 June 2011

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