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Army Chief's age row creates succession problem
General VK Singh says he was born in 1951 but Army documents show he was born in 1950.
New Delhi: It is a familiar rift, in the top ranks, evident even during investigations in the Sukhna land scam case, and now in the headlines once again.
At the heart of the conflict this time is the age of the Chief of Army Staff, General VK Singh. As of now, this very moment, as the author writes this article, the country does not know how old it's Army Chief is, 60 or 61 years of age. But why is that important? The Chief retires at 62 and the controversy over his age threatens to disrupt the line of succession.
Two army commanders, who are possible successors to General VK Singh will have to wait for the government's acceptance of a Law Ministry advisory to determine the Chief's age. The Law Ministry has now said that General VK Singh's school leaving certificate, that records his date of birth as May 10, 1951, is a bonafide document. Whether this decision is acceptable to the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet is now under cloud after various other documents have come to light.
It turns out the Law Ministry's recommendation took just one document into consideration and recommended that the Date of Birth be considered as May 10, 1951, whereas at least three other crucial documents showed otherwise. Copies of these documents available with CNN-IBN, show that UPSC form for admission to the National Defence Academy in his own handwriting show the Date of Birth as May 10, 1950.
On completion of his course at the NDA, General VK Singh, then a cadet joined, the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. Even in this form, the Gentleman Cadet has entered May 10, 1950 as his age.
On completion of the one-year course at the IMA all Gentleman Cadets become Commissioned Officers. Then again before publishing the Army List, a verification is done by the Intelligence Bureau, Here once again, the Date of Birth is registered as May 10, 1950.
The Law Ministry's opinion is based entirely on just one document - the Middle Education Board Rajasthan certificate where the Date of Birth is 1951.
Ironically, it hasn't been just the General's own personal documents, the Adjutant General's Branch in Army HQ and the Military Secretary's office have also recorded different dates of birth for Singh. The AG's branch lists it as May 10, 1951 and the Military Secretary's office as May 10, 1950.
The discrepancy arose when Lt General Avadhesh Prakash was the Military Secretary. Prakash retired last year and is now awaiting court martial after an Army Court of Inquiry indicted him for influencing junior officers, including Lt General PK Rath who was punished in January 2011. The Court of Inquiry was ordered by General VK Singh when he was the Army commander before taking over as the chief on March 31, 2010. That inquiry was presided over by Lt General Parnaik.
According to the terms of his appointment as the Chief of Army Staff, General VK Singh will serve for two years or till he is 62, whichever is earlier.
In the event of his retirement in June 2012, the Eastern Army Commander, Lt General Bikram Singh, emerges as the senior most and in line to be the chief. If Gen Singh's term is extended by a year, then Lt General Parnaik could be the successor.
Who succeeds, well the Defence Ministry for the sake of transparency and probity needs to bring an end to what now seems like an age-old controversy.
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