Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Date of birth row: ‘Line of succession trumps all logic.’
by Lt-Gen Harwant Singh (Retd)
Ministry of Defence has finally rejected the Army Chief’s statutory complaint. Attorney General, on whose opinion the Ministry took the decision, has contended that “changing” the date of birth would alter the army’s ‘line of succession’. If ‘line of succession’ is the only legal thread by which the Attorney General’s opinion hangs, then he needs to do some more time in a law school!
Gen VK Singh was born on 10 May 1951 in military hospital, Pune and the same was entered in the service record of his father (14 Rajput). Date of birth in his school leaving certificate is 10 May 1951. At the time of filling application forms for UPSC examination for entry into NDA his teacher, wrongly entered 10 May 1950 in stead of 10 May 1951 as date of birth. VK Singh was then 14 years old and without realizing this error, signed the application. He was eligible for entry into NDA in both the cases, (age 10 May 1950 and 10 May 1951).
Before his interview at the Services Selection Board, school leaving certificate, letter from his father’s unit, indicating his date of birth as 10 May 1951 as well as police verification of age was sent to the UPSC. Based on this he was ‘provisionally’ allowed to join NDA: pending receipt of Board Examination Certificate. His NDA and IMA records reflected his date of birth as 10 May 1951.
On commissioning, his unit sent Form No IAFZ-2041 to AG’s Branch and the same was done by I M A. In both the cases date of birth was noted as 10 May 1951. His original Board Certificate was forwarded to AGs Branch at Army HQ in April 1971 (within 2 years of commissioning). Status concerning date of birth was changed from ‘Provisional’ to ‘Permanent.’ However the Military Secretary’s branch did not correct its record.
MS branch continued with the old argument that ‘change of date of birth’ could be carried out only within two years of commissioning. It was pointed out that, firstly the AG’s branch had carried out the correction within the stipulated two years and secondly it was not a case of ‘change of date of birth’ but one of ‘correction.’
AGs branch had confirmed in writing to the officer that his date of birth in its records was 10 May 1951. In Dec 2007 Ministry asked MS branch to give reasons for recording 10 May 1950 as the date of birth and to conduct an inquiry in the matter. MS replied that date of birth was taken from the officers initial application to the UPSC, but conducted no inquiry. It quoted GoI office memorandums of 23 June 1954 and of 21 April 1964 under which no change in date of birth could be made after 2 years of commissioning. Curiously enough it contended that verification of date of birth was not its responsibility but was on the charter of duties of AG’s Branch: where the date of birth had been amended as far back as 1971!
A ‘line of succession’ to the post of COAS appears to have been worked out. The then Army Chief pressurized the officer to accept, 'in the interest of service’ 10 May 1950 and that he would later have it amended. Gen VK Singh keeping the ‘service interest’ in mind, good faith and assurance from his chief accepted this arrangement. Nothing was done to correct this anomaly in the MS branch records.
Within two days of receipt of the complaint, Minister of State for Defence, announced that the Ministry had already taken a decision on the subject. Here then is a case where, due diligence and ‘application of mind’ apart, the case stood pre-judged and decided.
Min of Law had opined that the officer’s date of birth has to be taken as 10 May 1951. Later the Attorney General reversed this decision. For the Attorney General, hospital record, service record of the officer’s father, police report, school record and Board Examination Certificate are not proof enough of date of birth, but it is the ‘line of a succession’ which determined the date of birth. For him, because of this issue of ‘line of succession,’ Gen VK Singh was born on 10 May 1950 and not 10 May 1951! He does manage to turn jurisprudence on its head.!
The case exposes the chasm that exits between the office of the Army chief and the Defence Minister. Dealing with the case in a cavalier manner and with disdain has shocked the defence services. This denigration of the institution of the COAS will have a long term debilitating impact on the military. In all likelihood the Gen may not wish to serve for a few more months, but the issue is of probity and honour.
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Please also see an Article written by Col LK Anand (Retd) on the subject at (Srl No 22) on the left side of the blog.