Uncertainty over Indian Army chief’s age rages

The complaint's 90-day mandatory period for a response ended a month ago, but Antony has maintained that he was not bound by the Army Act under which the statutory plea had been made by General Singh.

N ew Delhi: Uncertainty over the year of birth of Indian Army chief General Vijay Kumar Singh continues, with all indications that Defense Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony may not respond to a statutory complaint from the former submitted in August this year.

The controversy relates to the army chief’s request, made over a year ago, for restoring his date of birth as May 10, 1951, in the army’s official records, which also had May 10, 1950 as the year of birth.

The complaint’s 90-day mandatory period for a response ended a month ago, but Antony has maintained that he was not bound by the Army Act under which the statutory plea had been made by General Singh.

Defense ministry sources said Monday that Antony will, however, reply to the complaint from the army chief, but say he was not competent to sit on judgement over the age controversy as it involved legal issues.

The minister would go by the advice of the legal officers.

General Singh had submitted his statutory complaint in August over a month after the defense ministry rejected his request to change his birth year from 1950 to 1951, based on the recommendations of the attorney general, who had rejected the demand.

Antony also informed parliament then that the age was fixed with 1950 as the year of birth when his case came up for appointment as army commander and earlier as corps commander, and hence he will retire in May 2012.

The army chief’s age had become controversial as a change in the year could upset the line of succession of the 1.13-million strong army.

If 1951 is accepted, General Singh would be entitled to serve another nine months than his scheduled retirement on May 31, 2012.

If he retires in 2012, the present Eastern Army Commander, Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, is likely to take over as the next army chief. If General Singh’s tenure gets extended, then the present Northern Army commander, Lieutenant General K.T. Parnaik, may get to head the army.

The army chief had earlier sought the opinion of five legal experts including four retired chief justices of India: G.B. Patnaik, V.N. Khare, R.C. Lahoti and J.S. Verma, apart from former solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam.

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