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Now Supreme Court raps government over army chief's age row

Friday February 03, 2012 06:21:20 PM, IANS

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The Supreme Court Friday rejected a petition which sought restoration of army chief General V.K. Singh's date of birth to May 10, 1951. An apex court bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice   

Government, army chief set for legal battle

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday rapped the government over the way it has handled army chief Gen. V.K. Singh's age row, saying the entire process of deciding his year of birth was "vitiated".

The court will now hear Feb 10 the army chief's plea to establish his date of birth as May 10, 1951 instead of May 10, 1950. The controversy stems from two sets of records with the Adjutant General's and Military Secretary's branches of the Indian Army.

The defence ministry had last December rejected the general's statutory complaint on setting his year of birth as 1950, meaning that he will have to retire May 31. Prior to this, the government had also ruled last July that his date of birth was May 10, 1950.

Both the orders were issued on the basis of opinions from Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati, the government's highest legal officer.

An apex court bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and H.L. Gokhale observed that it found an "administrative defect" in the decision-making process on Singh's age. It questioned how the same legal officer could be asked for advice twice over on the same issue, making the process "vitiated".

"We are not concerned as much with the decision but we are concerned with the decision-making process which is vitiated as the July 21 order was also based on the consideration of opinion given by the attorney general and when the statutory complaint of the army chief was decided on December 30, there also the attorney general's opinion was taken into consideration," the bench observed.

"Once you (attorney general) have committed an opinion to an authority to decide on the law, how can you again give your opinion in deciding the complaint? The problem is fundamental," the judges told Vahanvati, who appeared for the defence ministry.

"We are not concerned with the correctness of the decision. But the decision-making process is vitiated."

They said the the material on record "will not withstand the test of principle of natural justice and principle of ultra vires".

The judges gave the option of withdrawing the December order to the government after Vahanvati contended that the complaint filed by the army chief was not maintainable yet the government decided it on merit.

They said the ministry could revise the order based on an independent legal opinion or the court will quash it.

The court adjourned the hearing till Feb 10 to enable the attorney general take instructions from the government on the fate of the Dec 30, 2011 order.

Singh's lawyer Puneet Bali refused to interpret the court's observation, saying the matter was sub judice. He said: "The court has asked for clarifications on the Dec 30 order. The court has basically gone on the principle of justice. It is too premature to say what is going to happen."

The army chief had moved the Supreme Court after the defence ministry rejected his statutory complaint.

Sources said that defence ministry was now looking at withdrawing the December order and seeking independent legal opinion on decide the general's statutory complaint that would be placed before the court at the next hearing.

The sources said that the government was also trying to work on an out of court settlement with the army chief and his meeting with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday night was a starter to break the impasse.

The meeting ended without any breakthrough but sources said the two sides were trying to work out a compromise after the first round in the court went against the government but "not necessarily in favour of the army chief".








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(Photo: IANS/Amlan Paliwal)



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