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Army age row in the open

New Delhi, Sept. 4: The row over the army chief’s age erupted in public today with the principal interface between Army Headquarters and the media claiming the defence ministry had not consulted relevant records to establish General V.K. Singh’s date of birth.

The Telegraph had reported last month that Army HQ had questioned the defence ministry’s July 22 order. But so far the correspondence between the ministry and Army HQ was non-attributable to sources. Today Army HQ has put the dispute on record.

Army HQ’s additional director general (public information) — or ADG(PI) — in a rejoinder to news agency PTI, said the defence ministry had ignored the date of birth mentioned in Singh’s matriculation certificate.

Army HQ has two records of the chief’s date of birth —May 10, 1951, and May 10, 1950 — the first maintained by the adjutant general’s (AG’s) branch and the second by the military secretary’s (MS) branch.

On July 22, A.K. Antony’s defence ministry ordered the army to settle the date at May 10, 1950, implying the chief would have to retire in May 2012. The current chief’s tenure will determine who qualifies to be the next chief — Lt Gen. Bikram Singh, the Eastern Army Commander, or Lt Gen. K.T. Parnaik, the Northern Army Commander.

The defence ministry spokesperson, asked for a response to the Army HQ statement, did not wish to comment.

The ADG(PI) wrote to PTI that in the ministry’s July 22 order, “the MoD (ministry of defence) has gone by what the MS branch at Army HQ has said. The custodian of records, at Army HQ, is the AG’s branch, and MS branch has no jurisdictional authority on this issue..... The confusion has occurred because the AG’s branch has not been consulted. The inquiry, which was asked for by the MoD, was never conducted at that time (2008) by Army HQ, as it would have punctured the claims of the then military secretary (Lt General Avadhesh Prakash). This confusion was further compounded because the MS branch did not correct its records from those maintained by the AG, despite the AG’s branch writing to MS, in earlier years.”

Prakash is now retired but is facing a general court martial on charges of influencing the attempted transfer of land at Sukna Military Station to a Siliguri-based realtor.

The army chief has also filed a statutory complaint with Antony to which the government has 180 days to reply. Before that, the AG’s branch had written to the ministry questioning the legal validity of its July 22 order.

But this is the first time that Army HQ has gone public on the issue. Never in the last 10 years, at least, has the ADG(PI) given a written statement contradicting an official government position.

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