Monday, January 30, 2012

Army chief controversey has exposed flaws in the system

Army chief General Vijay Kumar Singh will have to fight his last battle all alone. But when the head of the army of a country fights a battle for himself, the people will have to be vigilant. It is for General Singh to take the legal battle forward but the brewing controversy over the Indian army maintaining two records for his date of birth raises issues of public concern.

The government has been claiming that General Singh could not seek any change in records after two years as per rules. The matter pertains to the very functioning of the administrative set up in the army, but it might remain unaddressed in the ongoing private legal battle. True, the Supreme Court last week dismissed a PIL concerning the matter but this should merely be seen as refusal to allow any third party to take up the private fight of another person.

It was too much for the Grenadiers Association to have sought determination of the army chief's date of birth of the as May 10, 1951 in a PIL. There can, however, hardly be two opinions on the fact that it is in public interest to seek a probe into how two different offices in the Indian army ended up having two different records. And, how an officer nearly completed his full tenure in service allegedly with two records pertaining to his date of birth - May 10, 1950 according to the Military Secretary branch and May 10, 1951 as per the Adjutant General branch.

No doubt, the government will deal with General Singh's contentions in court. But this does not come in way of a debate on issues concerning the functioning of the Indian army.

The government has been claiming that General Singh could not seek any change in records after two years as per rules. This may be a valid legal argument for opposing the army chief's petition but it throws up several questions.

The fact that General Singh did not raise the issue in time is no excuse for two contradictory records being maintained by the army for so long. This shows it in poor light as far as the maintenance of records is concerned. The government may have a point when it claims that General Singh had no legal right to take the matter to court after repeatedly undertaking that he considered the matter closed. But this only points to the manner in which serious issues are dealt with in the army. If it was a mistake on General Singh's part, it strains reason to justify a negotiated settlement whereby he was virtually let go after an giving an undertaking not to rake up the issue again. And even worse, he was appointed as the head of the Indian army. Further, an internal note during the controversy states that he was unfit to be appointed as army chief. If the matter was as serious as reflected in the note referred to by the Attorney General in one of his opinions, it called for resolution by way of adjudication rather than through negotiation.

If he was right, then it raises more serious questions but these could be dealt with during the hearing on the army chief's petition. The genesis of the dispute seems to be in the fact that General Singh, while applying for the job, had filled his date of birth in his UPSC application form as May 10, 1950. The government has been heavily relying on this fact and it is an admitted position that the date of birth in the records was based on this entry.

There is further no denial that the matriculation certificate came later and it had a different date of birth. Here again, the government may point to faults by the army chief himself or rely on rules, technicalities, latches or other valid legal arguments for not going by the matriculation certificate but the entry in the UPSC form.

These arguments could help the government win the case against General Singh but would leave several questions unanswered. Whatever may be the argument of the government in this regard, giving precedence to an entry in the application form over documents does not inspire confidence as it may lead to absurd conclusions.

It is logical to reject a candidate if the entry in the form is not backed by supporting documents or consider his candidature by rectifying the entry in the form as per the supporting documents.

But to consider the entry in the form to be correct in such a case defies logic and common sense. There could be a situation where the age entered in the UPSC form is much less or a candidate may not have passed the qualifying examination or may have given misleading information.

Would entries in the form be taken on face value in such a case? Would documentary evidence contradicting the claim be ignored merely because it is submitted late? The government is under an obligation to defend its case against the army chief. But it should not ignore that it also has a duty to ensure confidence of the people in the system.

by the courtesy of Sanjha Morcha

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