Army chief General V.K. Singh said he was born in 1950. It got him three crucial promotions as corps commander, army commander and finally, army chief. General Singh now wants the government to change his date of birth to 1951. A change in date will extend his tenure by 10 months.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) documents accessed under the Right to Information Act (RTI), now with India Today, paint a damning picture of the army chief's attempts to rectify his birth date. These documents include letters from senior MoD bureaucrats, including former defence secretary Pradeep Kumar, and Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati.
The documents are an insight into the upheaval within the MoD triggered by the Army Chief's May 25, 2011, representation to Defence Minister A.K. Antony. General Singh formally asked for his birth date to be changed. The defence minister sought legal advice from the law ministry and Vahanvati. Their opinions formed the basis of Antony's July 21 decision to ignore General Singh's plea. General Singh sent in a voluminous statutory complaint to the mod last month, the first ever by a serving chief.
A.K. Antony, right, has refused to budge on General V K Singh's pleas.
Among his major contentions-his birth certificate and SSC certificate have May 10, 1951 as his date of birth. General Singh says the Military Secretary's branch failed to update records after receiving his SSC certificate in 1971. Antony is yet to respond to this new complaint but his decision is unlikely to differ.
Documents furnished under the RTI application show that General Singh went back on two written commitments in 2006 and 2008 explicitly accepting May 10, 1950, as his date of birth and agreeing not to rake up the age issue. His confidants say thoseletters were extracted from him under duress. The problem of two dates of birth, they say, arose because of a clerical error. The Adjutant General's branch that deals with the army's manpower planning issues recorded 1951 and the Military Secretary's branch handling postings and promotions recorded 1950 as General Singh's date of birth.
But as the documents show, General Singh accepted 1950 as his birth date for promotions but continued to insist on the 1951 birth date after he got them. The controversy first came to light in 2006 when Singh was a Major General. Then Military Secretary Lt General Richard Khare asked General Singh why he was indicating May 10, 1951, as his birth date. Rules said birth dates could be changed only two years after an officer is commissioned. Singh accepted 1950 as his birth date. He was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant General and given command of the crucial Ambala-based 2 Corps.
In January 2008, noting the two different birth dates, the MOD called for an inquiry. Then joint secretary (ground and air) Bimal Julka questioned his suitability as army commander. In a January 21, 2008 letter Julka asked General Deepak Kapoor to revisit V.K. Singh's appointment as army commander because he continued to "stand by a birth date not officially recognised".
General Singh, then commanding the Ambala-based 2 Corps, accepted the 1950 birth date. He was promoted as eastern army commander. In a final November 2009 letter to then army chief General Kapoor, General Singh accepted 1950 as his birth date and "treated the matter as closed". His name was proposed for army chief and approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. His birth date was mentioned as 1950. It meant that General Singh, who was took over as Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) on April 1, 2010, would retire on June 1, 2012. Army chiefs serve a three-year term or until they turn 62, whichever is earlier.
In October 2010, an RTI application from a former IAS officer sought the army chief's birth date. The Adjutant General branch sent the RTI application to the legal adviser to the MoD, bypassing the ministry. The legal adviser said that the chief was born in 1951 and not 1950. A May 6 letter from Subhash Chandra, the Joint Secretary (Ground and Air), took serious note of being bypassed and of the Adjutant General branch's attempt to rectify the age based on the advice given.
On May 7, then defence secretary Pradeep Kumar noted that the amendment of the Army Chief's date of birth would impact the succession plan. "The possibility of those affected by the decision seeking redressal in court cannot be ruled out. (General Singh is to be succeeded by eastern army commander Lt General Bikram Singh in 2012). "Therefore, it is essential that whatever decision the Government takes should be defendable in court," Kumar said. In May, the law ministry asked the attorney general "whether the amendment of the chief's date of birth was legally tenable after so many years". The query was forwarded to Vahanvati who turned down the army chief's plea. The army then produced the opinions of two retired Supreme Court chief justices to show why the chief had a strong case.
A series of facts detailed by Vahanvati in a second letter to the mod on June 21 knocks the bottom out of the Army Chief's case. Vahanvati said there were five documents with 1950 as birth date, including two from General Singh. The Attorney General reiterated his May 16 conclusion and again rejected the Army Chief's contention of 1951 as his birth date.
General Singh took office on the promise of cleansing "the internal health of the Indian army and battling corruption. His legacy will be that of a chief who went to battle to have his date of birth changed.
Five documents show VK Singh's year of birth as 1950: Attorney General
At least five documents, including one at the time of army chief General VK Singh's commissioning, show his date of birth as May 10, 1950, the Attorney General has told the Defence Ministry following a row over his age.
While the records showed two sets of dates of birth, the Ministry had decided to take May 10, 1950 as against the general's claim that he was born a year later on May 10, 1951, which, if recognised, would have given him an extra ten months in office.
Defence Ministry documents accessed through RTI show that as per a government note dated January 22, 1971, the batch of Singh in the Indian Military Academy (IMA) completed its training on June 6, 1970 and the list prepared showed the date of birth to be May 10, 1950.
In his opinion given to the Defence Ministry on army chief's petition to change his date of birth to May 10 1951, the Attorney General has said that, "At least five documents are referred to which show the date of birth as 1950, two of which have emanated from Gen VK Singh himself."
He further stated that in the army list of 1974-75, the date of birth is showed to be May 10, 1950.
On Gen Singh's contention that May 10, 1950 date in his UPSC form was filled up wrongly by his school teacher, the Attorney General said that this, "makes the matter more serious as it shows that the application required to be filled in the candidate's own handwriting was filled in by a teacher and not by Gen Singh."
The army chief has filed a Statutory Complaint with the Defence Minister seeking a change in his date of birth after the Ministry issued an order on July 21 to say that May 10, 1950 will be treated as his date of birth.
Army age glare on govt
- RTI disclosure shows records can be changed
New Delhi, Dec. 15: The government has been confronted with new evidence in the row over the date of birth of General V.K. Singh even as defence minister A.K. Antony dithers for more than three months over a statutory complaint filed by the army chief.
The army has changed the dates of birth (DoB) of at least five officers, including a lieutenant general whose record was amended after he had put in 36 years of service, it has admitted in a reply to a Right To Information (RTI) query from a retired officer.
The age of the army chief has been the subject of much debate in the government because it may not only determine his tenure but could also impact the rules of service and tenure of senior officers in government. It also affects the line of succession.
The resolution of the age issue may finally be the outcome of deft political management involving not only the defence minister but also Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
The Prime Minister was approached by a group of Parliament members — all of the Rajput caste — with Gen. V.K. Singh’s case. The Prime Minister refused to take a memorandum from them. An organisation of Rajputs has also petitioned the President who is the supreme commander of the armed forces.
Already, there are fears that the army chief is going through the formalities — such as filing a statutory complaint — as a step towards challenging the government in court in a dramatic case that may read “Gen. V.K. Singh versus the Union of India”, a deeply embarrassing prospect that neither side wants to get into first-shot.
Gen. Singh is due to retire on May 31, 2012, according to the defence ministry. In that event, Lt Gen. Bikram Singh, currently the Eastern Army commander, may become the chief. But if Gen. Singh’s DoB is taken as May 10, 1951 — as he has pleaded — he would be entitled to an extension of tenure till 2013 and Lt Gen. K.T. Parnaik, currently the Northern Army commander, may get to be army chief. Gen. V.K. Singh has not sought extension of tenure.
Gen. V.K. Singh contends that his year of birth is 1951 while the defence ministry ruled in July that he was born in 1950, according to records in the military secretary’s branch.
Antony also said this in Parliament while acknowledging that the army chief has filed a statutory complaint. The government has held that the records cannot be changed.
But in replies to a RTI petition (dated October 14, 2011) from a lieutenant colonel, the army has listed five instances in which the date of birth of army officers had been changed.
Among them is the case of Lt Gen. .P. Kaushik, now retired, who was former chief of staff in the Eastern Command headquarters at Fort William. The army changed his DoB on a Delhi High Court order after he had put in 36 years of service.
For Lt Col. P.M. Xavier, the DoB was changed, on a Gauhati High Court order after he had put in 23 years of service.
In the case of Col. R.C. Joshi, his DoB was changed after he had 32 years of service. The officer had applied for the change when he was a cadet at the National Defence Academy (NDA).
“Case was processed with government of India. Change in DoB was carried out in accordance with government order,” the army has written to Lt Col. (retired) Attar Singh. The government order was given on the basis of the school leaving certificate and a revised matriculation certificate. (Gen. V.K. Singh has been citing his matriculation certificate among 14 documents to show that his DoB is May 10, 1951).
In the case of Brigadier Prithvi Raj, too, the change was effected on an order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court after 29 years of service.
Attar Singh had asked for the number of instances in which the military secretary’s branch had changed DoBs in its records. In the case of the army chief, the dispute has arisen from the records of the military secretary’s branch, which is in charge of transfers and postings, and the adjutant-general’s (AG) branch that is the official record-keeper on all personnel matters.
In determining that the chief, Gen. V.K. Singh, was born in 1950, the defence ministry has gone by the military secretary branch record.
In response to another RTI (dated October 12), that asked for the DoB of the army chief when he was commissioned into service, the ministry is yet to give a reply in full to Attar Singh. But in the response that Attar Singh was given, ministry deputy secretary K.L. Nandwani wrote: “AG’s branch, AHQ (army headquarters) being the official custodian in respect of the information sought” is required to reply to the question. This is against the stated position of the ministry in the case of Gen. V.K. Singh.