Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Govt's next battle: Against army chief Ajai Shukla

Govt's next battle: Against army chief
Ajai Shukla / New Delhi January 1, 2012, 0:13 IST
The UPA government, still smarting from the Lok Pal Bill fiasco in the Rajya Sabha, already contemplates its next battle. Business Standard has learnt that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General V K Singh, plans to petition the Supreme Court on Monday after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) yesterday rejected his statutory complaint asking for his date of birth to be reconciled.

The army chief contends (supported by 19 documents, including matriculation and birth certificates) that he was born on May 10, 1951. That makes him eligible to serve till May 31, 2013, when he would retire after completing 62 years that month. The Adjutant General’s (AG’s) Branch, the army’s official record keeper, supports that date. But the Military Secretary’s Branch, which handles promotions, has him born on May 10, 1950 and, therefore, due for retirement on May 31, 2012. The MoD has ruled that the latter date is correct.

“The chief will leave on January 5 for an official visit to Myanmar. Before that, he would like to file his writ petition, to which he is entitled as a citizen of India,” says a close aide to Singh.

Sources close to Singh describe him as “extremely bitter” at the government’s “backstabbing” over this issue. They say Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was mediating with the army chief on behalf of the government. After Singh refused the offer of a post-retirement ambassadorship or governorship, retorting that this was a matter of honour, Mukherjee is said to have asked the chief to wait till January 16, 2012, when a face-saving compromise would be worked out. To the army chief’s surprise yesterday, the government rejected his petition.

Approached for comments, Mukherjee’s office admitted the finance minister met Singh yesterday, in a closed-door one-on-one meeting. But the official denied that the date-of-birth issue was discussed. “So many people discuss different things with the finance minister. We cannot reveal what they talked,” the official said.
Govt's next battle: Against army chief

COAS to resign ahead of tenure?
General Singh is consulting legal experts, including three former Chief Justices of India, and they have strongly supported him. Sources say the Army chief has two options: Either to go to the Armed Forces Tribunal, or move to Supreme Court directly. The Supreme Court is already hearing a Public Interest Litigation over the issue.

Sources also say that General Singh has also not ruled out resigning ahead of his tenure ending on May 31, 2012 - the date which the government has now decided.
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