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New records don’t back army chief's age claim

In a fresh twist to the continuing controversy over army chief General VK Singh’s date of birth, new records have emerged that contradict his attempts to show himself a year younger. Rahul Singh reports. Graphics: Telltale papers

delhi Updated: Apr 27, 2011 02:19 IST
Rahul Singh

In a fresh twist to the continuing controversy over army chief General VK Singh’s date of birth, new records have emerged that contradict his attempts to show himself a year younger.

Gen Singh had claimed he was granted provisional entry in the army in 1970 as his school certificate with his date of birth (DoB) arrived only a year later. He had claimed this to resolve conflicting DoBs in his dossiers — May 10, 1950 and May 10, 1951.

If 1951 is to be taken into account, Singh would retire in March 2013 instead of May 2012, giving him 10 more months as army chief. It could send the succession map of the world’s second largest army into disarray.

But as borne out by an army headquarters letter dated June 8, 1970, granting permanent commission to gentlemen cadets of 45 Regular Course (the chief's batch), Singh's commission was not provisional. In fact, he topped the list of cadets assigned to infantry.

According to the June 1970 letter, accessed by HT, only three cadets passing out from the Indian Military Academy were granted permanent commission provisionally as their civil verification was not satisfactory. Commission was withheld in the case of five other cadets "pending receipt of their original certificates". Singh's name does not figure in either of these lists.

On May 10 2006, Singh had written to then military secretary (MS) Lt Gen Richard Khare that his "candidature and commission" was considered provisional until 1971, as his SSC certificate had not arrived from Rajasthan Education Board.

He had written this in response to the MS' branch detecting the two DoBs in its records. The chief had been maintaining his DoB as May 10, 1951 in his confidential reports and service record — contrary to the birth dates shown in other official documents.

In response to a written query from HT seeking the army chief's perspective on the issue, a senior army officer said all documents relating to the chief's date of birth were subject to an army inquiry. "We have ordered an inquiry to find out how confidential documents were leaked. We cannot comment at this stage as there is no access to those documents," he said.

If Singh retires in 2012, Eastern Army commander Lt Gen Bikram Singh will replace him. Lt Gen Dalbir Singh, currently a corps commander, will then be a top contender to succeed Bikram Singh. However, if VK Singh retires in 2013, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen KT Parnaik will take charge while Bikram Singh would have retired by then. Parnaik's successor could then be Lt Gen Ashok Singh, currently a corps commander.

Independent India has had 26 army chiefs. Only twice has the government interfered with the succession line-up. One, when Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was given an extension in 1972 and the second time when Lt Gen SK Sinha was overlooked to appoint Gen AS Vaidya as chief in 1983.

HT was the first to report on April 20 in a story headlined, ‘Army chief's age in way of succession plan,' how the army had shut the case after Singh had made an unconditional commitment in 2008 accepting May 10, 1950, as his DoB.

The case was, however, reopened after the law ministry in a controversial opinion accepted Singh's DoB as May 10, 1951, contradicting army rules and ignoring vital documents that show Singh a year older.

These include a reiteration of the 2008 commitment made by Singh in November 2009, his IMA dossier, the Army List (1974-75) and Recruiting branch particulars verified by the Intelligence Bureau. The law ministry in its opinion dated February 14 said the 1950 entry appeared only in Singh's NDA form.