Monday, January 30, 2012

Can the Supreme Court bring closure to Army Chief age row?

The General is fighting for his honour. Only an SC verdict will bring closure to Army chief age row by Venky Vembu Jan 19, 2012
When a military strategy isn’t going well or risks excessive losses, wisdom lies in reviewing it, even if it entails retreat from entrenched positions.

The controversy over the date of birth of the Army chief, Gen VK Singh, which has unfortunately pitted the civilian and the military pillars of the state as combatants, now risks going past the point of no return.

The Army chief is battling to protect his honour over the discrepancy in the military records over his date of birth. The civilian bureaucracy and their ministerial masters had several opportunities to make mid-course correction, but having missed them, it is today unyielding in its defence of its earlier decision regarding the Army chief’s date of birth.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but primarily, it is bureaucratic cussedness, backed by ministerial mulishness, that has escalated the matter thus far, and even today inhibits the government from accepting a good soldier’s word on the circumstances in which the discrepancy about his date of birth crept into the military records.

From accounts that are now coming to the surface in the light of the Army chief’s filing before the Supreme Court, his efforts over the years at reconciling the records after the discrepancy in his birthdate first cropped appear to have been systematically blunted.

Gen Singh has been trying since as early as in 1985 to correct the records, and was told that the correction would be effected in the normal course. Yet, it was never done.

Assurances from successive army chiefs and ministers that the record would be set right, or that a face-saving and honourable resolution to the embarrassing controversy would be found, have come to nothing.

Yet, over the years, the Military Secretary branch had tacitly acknowledged, while processing the several illustrious awards that Gen Singh has been decorated with, that his date of birth was indeed 10 May 1951.

It wasn’t until May 2006 that the matter surfaced again: That month, the Military Secretary branch noted that Gen Singh’s date on its records did not match with the records of the Adjutant General branch.

In July 2008, Gen Singh was assured by the then Army chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor, that the records would be cleaned up to clear the discrepancy, but the military bureaucracy appears not to have delivered.

Even up until last week, before Gen Singh crossed the Rubicon and moved the Supreme Court, he was assured by Finance Minister (and former Defence Minister) Pranab Mukherjee that an honourable way out would be worked out, with the government accepting the General’s claim in respect of his date of birth if he agreed to retire in May this year.

The Indian Express reports that Gen Singh seemed inclined to accept such a compromise formula, provided it would be effected before a public interest petition, filed by an ex-servicemen’s association, came up for hearing before the Supreme Court. (That PIL will now be heard has been dismissed, which was why Gen Singh moved to file his affidavit before the Supreme Court earlier this week.)

But even that formula was spiked by the defence ministry bureaucracy, virtually forcing Gen Singh to take the unprecedented step of moving the Supreme Court.

Even now, there are various compromise formulae being floated under which the government would reconcile the military records in a way that accepts Gen Singh’s word – and protects his honour – and simultaneously secure his premature retirement in May this year.

But such a compromise formula would again be susceptible to legal challenge, because so much else rides on it.

Under the circumstances, there is a strong a case to allow the Supreme Court to go into the merits of the case, and deliver a verdict on the General’s date of birth. Sure, a court-mandated resolution isn’t the best way to resolve what has escalated into an unseemly tussle between the civilian and military pillars. It may not be as “neat” as a compromise formula.

But at least it will have the stamp of judicial authority on a contentious issue. It will bring a closure to this sordid episode in a way that a compromise formula, which could again be dragged back to court, will not.
Only an SC verdict will bring closure to Army chief age row

Comment by Soumen Sengupta Pundit
I think the main issue is that with the type of corruption and nepotism going on with the Politicians, nobody believes them. They are losing their credibility hence no Indians are convinced about the logic even it may be right. I think this is a dangerous precedent for a democracy, everybody knows somewhere it needs to end... but the million dollar question is "HOW".

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