Government, army chief set for legal battle (Evening Lead)

New Delhi, Jan 17 (IANS) Preparing itself for a legal battle with Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh, the government Tuesday requested the Supreme Court to hear its version before passing any order on the raging age row involving the general.

The defence ministry filed a caveat in the apex court, requesting it to not pass any order on the general’s petition over his age dispute before hearing the government.

In a related development, Defence Minister A.K. Antony also called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They are said to have discussed the issue, a day after the general took the government to court.

Informed sources said the two met in the afternoon after Antony met Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati.

Gen Singh, citing birth records, says he was born in 1951 and is not due to retire until March 2013.

But records at the defence ministry show he was born in 1950, which means that Gen Singh, who became army chief in March 2010, is due to retire in May this year.

Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharmam who was on an official visit to Malaysia, was called back as the defence ministry readied for what could turn out to be a bitter legal battle.

The government refused to go into details of what it planned to do.

‘Every human being has a right to seek justice if he feels he has been denied justice,’ Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said here.

‘I am afraid it’s very difficult to make it into an issue or controversy… We have always dealt (with the armed forces) with high respect and high regard,’ she said.

The row has pitted the most senior leader of the 1.13-million-strong army, the world’s second largest, against the government — a first in independent India.

The chief moved the Supreme Court Monday after the ministry in December rejected his statutory complaint, requesting change of his year of birth in official records to 1951 from 1950.

The army chief has denied his move was related to his tenure. He argues he wants to restore his ‘integrity and honour’.

The Supreme Court will decide on Singh’s plea next week. Experts say it may refer the case to the Armed Forces Tribunal or to a lower court.