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July date for plea against Suhag

New Delhi, June 19: A petition challenging the appointment of Lt Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag as the army chief-designate is likely to be heard by the Supreme Court in early July.

The petition was filed by Lt Gen. Ravi Dastane, now with the Integrated Defence Staff, who had said that Suhag was appointed an army commander even though there was a discipline and vigilance (DV) ban on him imposed by the former army chief (now minister for the Northeast), Gen. V.K. Singh.

The ban was lifted by V.K. Singh’s successor and the incumbent chief, Gen. Bikram Singh.

A bench headed by Justice Vikramajit Sen advanced the hearing of the case from September to July after Dastane said in a fresh plea that Suhag is slated to take over as the chief of army staff from August 1.

He argued that the controversy over his appointment should be settled by July 31 when Bikram Singh is scheduled to retire as the army chief.

Defence minister Arun Jaitley has said publicly more than once that there was no rethink in the Centre on Suhag’s appointment and that he will take over as army chief.

Dastane has alleged in his plea that Suhag’s elevation was a result of favouritism.

In an affidavit filed in the same case last fortnight, the Centre had said that the DV ban on Suhag that was imposed by V.K. Singh was “premeditated”, “vague” and “illegal”.

V.K. Singh had approved the ban for alleged “failure of command and control” in an operation by a unit of the Dimapur-headquartered 3 Corps. The unit allegedly engineered extra-judicial killings in the Northeast. V.K. Singh had held Suhag responsible because he was the general commanding the army formation at the time of the alleged encounter.

The UPA-II government named Suhag as the army chief, a decision that the BJP-led government has backed.

In his petition to the Supreme Court in December, Dastane’s lawyer, R.K. Anand, said his client was victimised because he was not promoted as army commander despite being eligible.

Dastane’s petition questioned the appointments of Suhag and Lt Gen. Sanjiv Chhachra as army commanders. He said the army chief, Gen. Bikram Singh, should have referred the case for promotions and the DV ban on Suhag to the government but instead lifted the ban unilaterally and paved the way for Suhag’s promotion.