Army Chief Crisis: UPA & Judiciary equally to blame
by Sandhya Jain on 18 Jan 2012 47 Comments

Whatever the eventual fate of Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh and his petition seeking legal remedy on the issue of his date of birth, the responsibility for driving the glorious institution of the Indian Army and its Chief into this fight rests on the shoulders of the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister, the Cabinet, the UPA supremo + Caucus, and above all, the Supreme Court.

This article expresses the anguish of common citizens who know that the nation survives because of the Indian Army and its peerless soldiers and officers, who often take flak and even sacrifice their lives needlessly because of poor political leadership.

Years ago, the Indian Judiciary was esteemed as the last bastion of hope for the common man in the face of rising corruption in the polity and administration. Today, many feel that the judiciary has belied that trust. The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution rued:

“'Judicial system has not been able to meet even the modest expectations of the society. Its delays and costs are frustrating, its processes slow and uncertain. People are pushed to seek recourse to extra-legal methods for relief. Trial system both on the civil and criminal side has utterly broken down… Thus we have arrived at a situation in the judicial administration where courts are deemed to exist for judges and lawyers and not for the public seeking justice.”

Since the Commission was judiciary-headed and judiciary-heavy, this may be taken as coming from the horse’s mouth.

The apparently anti-Judiciary bias of this article derives from the fact that the Supreme Court failed to appreciate the gravity of the situation concerning the integrity of the Army Chief, and the need to urgently resolve the crisis to restore Army morale. Prompt action by the Court could have given the Government a fig leaf to cover its shame and ineptitude, and allowed the Chief to serve his tenure as per his legitimate due.

The Army Chief would not have been forced into a corner if the blooming idiots in the Defence Ministry had done justice to his plea, and not indulged in petty gossip and media slander insinuating that Gen. V.K. Singh was lying about his date of birth, when all official records gave 1951 and not 1950 as his year of birth. Worse were the planted stories that the General had accepted the ‘bribe’ of a governorship in lieu of not disturbing a dubious ‘line of succession’ worked out by someone who did not have the right to create such a line-up.

By all accounts, the bungling was across the board, though most viciously in the Defence Ministry, presided over by the bumbling A.K. Anthony. The Defence Minister vitiated the atmosphere by rejecting the Army Chief’s statutory complaint regarding the veracity of his date of birth, and asked him to accept a false date erroneously entered on a form – though all official documents submitted to the UPSC and Army Headquarters, including a clarification sought by UPSC on noting the error – recorded 1951 as the year of birth.

An astonishing part of this controversy – evidence that the Government’s left hand does not know what the right hand is doing – is that Gen. Singh was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal in 1989-90, Ati Vasisht Seva Medal in 2006 and Param Vishisht Seva Medal in 2009, with the respective citations mentioning his date of birth as 10 May 1951. So on what basis did government ‘adjust’ the year of birth to 1950, and why?

Informed sources say Mr. Anthony was ‘guided’ by a Caucus around the UPA’s non-official leadership. This is why he shunned the advice of the Law Ministry and opted for the ‘opinion’ of the Attorney General who, along with a Senior Advocate who was inspired to go ballistic against Gen. Singh in a leading weekly magazine, seems to have been briefed by the same sources. This is unbecoming conduct which the Bar Council should scrutinize.

The UPA’s shenanigans in the past four months invite contempt. What was the ‘amicable solution’ that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was trying to work out, when all he had to do was to endorse the veracity of Gen. Singh’s claims? And given the virtual barrage of vicious articles in the media, what was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh doing to restore the dignity of the Armed Services and the Army Chief? Other ministers like P. Chidambaram and Salman Khurshid who spoke on the issue, and National Security Advisor Shiv Shanker Menon, will have to explain their role in cooking this vile broth.

There are no compulsions of coalition politics here; all the chief actors are Congressmen, and all have failed. The moral failure is so complete that, on this issue alone, the Government deserves to fall. It is the duty of all opposition parties to play their part in this.

Chief Justice S. H. Kapadia, like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, should have appreciated that a festering sore of this nature was hurting the morale of the Army. Hence, when the Grenadiers Association (Rohtak Chapter) filed a PIL (WP 513/2011) in the first week of December 2011, it should have received high priority. When the apex court heard the petition on 16 Dec. 2011, and Mr. Justice T.S. Thakur recused himself for personal reasons, a new bench should have been assigned forthwith. The Court showed no such urgency until Senior Advocate Bhim Singh urged the Chief Justice to assign the case to a new bench; now the petition of the Army Chief has overtaken matters.

Had the Supreme Court risen to the occasion, a simple scrutiny of records could have settled the issue expeditiously and saved the Nation from a crisis of unforeseen dimensions, with a highly respected institution like the Army embroiled in a mess created by a Political-Bureaucratic Nexus that citizens despise.

In future, judicial reforms must ensure that judges recusing themselves from a case give written reasons, so that there is no unwarranted delay and denial of justice by default. The Supreme Court should evolve a mechanism to expedite cases where a judge’s recusal could derail justice. Above all, it should appreciate the urgency in cases of such national sensitivity.

Briefly, on 21 July 2011, the Union Ministry of Defence vide order No.23 (1)/2011-D (MS) fixed Gen. V.K. Singh’s date of birth as 10 May 1950. The Prime Minister refused to accept a memorandum from a group of MPs urging him to adopt a view in accordance with settled principles of law and natural justice.

The Grenadiers Association filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution, urging the Court to direct the Union of India to correctly determine the date of birth of General V.K. Singh, Chief of Army Staff, as 10 May 1951 (as per matriculation certificate) and not 10 May 1950 as per opinion of the Attorney General. The petition noted that if government is allowed to manipulate the dates of birth of commissioned officers / IAS / IFS / IRS / and other public servants, the system could degenerate into anarchy if public servants are allowed to accept assumed dates of birth contrary to the actual dates mentioned in the records.

The main plea to the Court was to decide [1] whether date of birth as determined in the school leaving certificate could be re-determined, or changed, or advanced by the Government at their pleasure?

Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia betrayed no sense of awareness of national expectations from the Judiciary when he delivered the Ninth Nani A. Palkhivala Memorial Lecture on 14 Jan 2012. In his discourse, titled “The tails side of the judicial independence-judicial accountability coin,” he took the view that portrayal of every institution as corrupt will take a toll on the economy.

He said allegations against judges stem from a tendency among people to seek not justice, but justice that favours them. “An atmosphere is created which makes it very difficult for judges to work.” Judicial independence, he warned, is not merely independence from the Executive or Parliament, but from “organised private interests and public sentiment.”

Judiciary, he said, should be independent from politics and popular interests and judges should deliver justice as per law and not according to the opinion of the majority. Hinting at organised public pressure on judges, he quoted a speech by the Chief Justice of Canada that, “Well founded groups are trying to influence the public that the judiciary is not much different from politics.” Since he was speaking in Mumbai, Justice Kapadia should have admitted that the Supreme Court had erred in precisely this manner by virtually taking orders from a Mumbai NGO and transferring the Gujarat riot cases to that city!

Going by media reports, it was an unimpressive speech, giving no indications about how the Supreme Court will meet public expectations.

Concerned citizens are convinced that there is a sinister plot to undermine Army morale. The present Army Chief has made many enemies with his drive against those involved in Housing, Land and other scams. The attempt to shunt such a man out before the end of his legitimate tenure is part of a conspiracy by corrupt politicians-bureaucrats-contractors to cover their flanks.

Notwithstanding the high decibel slander in which Media Houses and journalists defamed him, Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh stands tall in the bar of public opinion. The Government cuts a sorry figure and enjoys little credibility. When the Supreme Court takes up the General’s petition, it will discover that it will need to measure up to very exacting standards of public expectation.


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