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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Age Row – Some Facts



Going by the round and round arguments about Gen VK Singh’s age row, it seems people have not gone beyond the sound bytes and headlines to understand the real issue involved. The issue in question was NOT the actual year of the General’s birth. The government, the court, everyone has clearly accepted his word that he was born in 1951. So no one was calling him a liar or assaulting his honour. The case related to what date should be taken into account for the purpose of his retirement. And the outcome was that the date originally entered in the UPSC form will be. Let us look at some facts of the case.

The date of birth was entered as 1950 in his UPSC form. This is not denied by anyone, so is well established.

Next, as per the General’s contention, “my SSC Certificate which is the authority for date of birth did not arrive from Rajashtan Education Board till 1971. My candidature and commission till then was considered provisional by the AG’s Branch. On receipt of the certificate, the same was forwarded to Org 3 (now MP5) and the correct date of birth was accepted by them and the provisional status was removed.” I am quoting this from a DO written by him to the then MS in 2006. See para 1 of document below.

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Unfortunately, this is not the truth. See  letter dated 8 June 1970 below. Para 1 of the first page of the letter says, “Approval has been accorded to grant of Permanent Commission in the Army in the rank of 2/Lt to the Gentlemen Cadets whose names are given in the Appendices A to K to this letter.” Now see para 13 of the second page, which is the list of officers whose permanent commission has been withheld pending receipt of original certificates. VK Singh’s name is not there. Now see the third page, which is Appendix E, list of officers commissioned into Infantry. The first name is Vijay Kumar Singh, 2 Rajput. So, this means that the General’s assertion in his DO to the MS, that AG’s branch did not have his original certificates till 1971, and that his commission was provisional till that time, is false.

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Next fact – the MS Branch records the year as 1950 and AG’s Branch as 1951. MS Branch’s records tally with his UPSC form and IMA dossier (in which also he has written 1950 in his own hand, and has said so in petition). The rule says that discrepancies have to be rectified within 2 years. Chief’s contention – this was done, when he forwarded his certificate to AG’s Branch in 1971. However, the veracity of that claim is in doubt in view of the document above. Also, there is no official record / casualty of the changing of date of birth by AG’s Branch – it has just been mysteriously changed to 1951. As per the procedure, if he had applied for the change in his records, the case would have to be processed on file, approval of the AG obtained and an entry made in his record of service under that authority. No such authority has been produced. No Part II order has been published for this change.

Thus – there are no records to prove that the date of birth was amended within the stipulated timeframe.

With that as the background, the Government had no option but to follow the rule position. Unless a proof could be produced that the date was amended within 2 years, the recorded date had to be taken into account. While it may be a little unfair to the individual, it is a little too much to call it victimization. At the level of the head of the organization, he should look at the bigger picture. If an exception is made in his case (on the basis of his statement in view of his personal integrity and probity, not the facts on record), the rule waived and a change in date admitted, it sets a precedence. This means that legally, everyone would be eligible to produce a matriculation certificate 40 years later and have their date of birth amended. While Gen VK Singh may be honest and upright, and his certificate genuine, there may be many others not so scrupulous. We all know the ease with which a matriculation certification can be obtained in this country. So what happens if 10 more generals approach the govt to reduce their ages? Based on the precedent, they would be entitled to a similar redress. Imagine the chaos.

This is not something that the general would not have understood. However, he chose to give it a twist saying that by not acceding to his statutory complaint, the government is calling him a liar. Now he has given it a further twist by linking it with the bribery case and arms lobby. Thanks to the era of headlines and soundbytes, people don’t have too much of time to go into the details, and the story of an honest upright general being victimized by a corrupt government and even more corrupt arms lobby resonates well.

As regards the outcome of the court case. Again the understanding of what happened is hazy with most people. Please see the text of the judgment. The government did not withdraw the order passed on his statutory complaint, as is generally believed. What is did was confine the order passed on his statutory complaint to holding that the complaint was not maintainable. (See para 4 of the judgment). Basically meaning that the detailed justification of why it was not maintainable was withdrawn without any effect on the operative part of the order. Para 10 talks about what my argument is all about – “As a matter of fact, the question before us in the Writ Petition is not about the determination of actual date of birth of the petitioner, but it concerns the recognition of a particular date of birth of the petitioner by the respondent in the official service record.”

Essentially the court was nice enough to save the Chief the indignity of rejecting his petition by allowing him to withdraw it. Had he not done so, it would have been rejected.

Questions that remain unanswered are – how was the date changed in the AG’s branch, under what authority? Why did the General, being fully conversant with all these facts, still decide to go to the court? We may have to wait for some of the dramatis personae to write their memoirs – and hope they are truthful.

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