The best way out

This was a legal battle he could never have won. General V.K. Singh was determined to prove when he was actually born — a matter of fact. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, was interested in how his age should be determined as per service matters — a matter of interpretation. As a result, the raft of documents, including a birth certificate and a school leaving certificate, which conclusively establish that General Singh was born on May 10, 1951 as he insists became irrelevant in the case. What was germane was that he was shown as being born a year earlier in “the official service record” — an anomaly that was not set right. General Singh had raised this issue within the Army and with the civilian authorities in 2007. But what apparently went against him was an acknowledgement, made reluctantly and under some pressure, that 1950 could be accepted as his year of birth before he was made GOC-in-C (Eastern Command). While the Supreme Court may have forced him to withdraw his petition, it is important to highlight there was no slur on his integrity, which the Bench said it had complete faith in. Nothing can take away from General Singh's ability and accomplishments. A highly decorated 1971 war veteran, he is widely recognised as a brilliant strategist and as a reform-oriented officer who tried hard to restore the image of an Army whose image had been blighted by corruption scandals such as Adarsh and Sukna.

In a way, the Supreme Court has pulled off a diplomatic coup. By ensuring that the petition is withdrawn, it has avoided the ugly situation of having to pass an adverse order against the Army Chief. At the same time, having highlighted his commitment to the nation, the Court prevailed on the Centre to withdraw its December 30, 2011 order that had rejected General Singh's complaint against fixing his date of birth as May 10, 1950. In words infused with the pragmatism that underscored the Supreme Court's attitude in this case, the bench observed: “Wise people are those who move with the wind. We are more concerned with the morale of the army and the right message should go from here — 13 lakh army personnel are watching this court.” The Court must have been aware of the implications of making an exception for General Singh on the age issue. In a system where promotions and retirements are determined substantially by date of birth, doing so would have encouraged others to seek changes in their dates of birth. The Court was also probably cognisant of the fact that when General Singh retires has implications for the promotions of other senior Army officials, apart from his successor. All in all, the Court found the best way out of a tricky impasse.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 8:14:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-best-way-out/article2886264.ece

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