Two different dates of birth (DoB) in the official records of the army chief Gen VK Singh have returned to haunt him and could send the succession map of the world’s second largest army into disarray.
The controversy on whether Gen Singh was born on May 10, 1950 or a year later has to be settled by the defence ministry.
A top defence ministry official said, “It’s a sensitive issue with huge implications for the army’s top hierarchy. We have to weigh in all pros and cons before taking a call.”The issue surfaced in May 2006 when the Military Secretary’s branch detected two different DoBs for Singh in its official records. The army chief had been maintaining his DoB as May 10, 1951, in his confidential reports and service record — contrary to the DoB shown in other official documents.
The then military secretary, Lt Gen Richard Khare, asked Singh in a letter dated May 3, 2006, “to reflect the correct date of birth, which is May 10, 1950” in his records.
The case had been shut in 2008 following a written commitment made by Singh accepting the 1950 date. But it was reopened after he took over as chief following a Right to Information (RTI) query, and on the army’s reference the defence ministry sought the law ministry’s opinion.
The legal opinion accepted Singh’s birth date as May 10, 1951, contradicting army rules that say that change in DoB must be made within two years of joining service. Singh said he received his school-leaving certificate with 1951 as his year of birth from the Rajasthan Education Board in 1971, which he then submitted.
If the defence ministry accepts this legal opinion, Singh would retire in March 2013 instead of May 2012, giving him 10 more months as army chief.
However, HT has found that the law ministry has overlooked at least four different documents — in the possession of this newspaper — that show him a year older. Among them is a reiteration of a commitment made by Singh in 2008 accepting May 10, 1950, as his DoB to the then army chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor.
“I have learnt of some misgivings and doubts being raised on my commitment given on my date of birth (May 10, 1950) as per your directions… I once again reiterate that my commitment to you stands,” Singh wrote to Gen Kapoor. This letter was sent to the defence ministry after which Singh’s case was processed for being appointed as army commander.
The law ministry in its opinion dated February 14 stated that the May 10, 1950 entry appears only in Singh’s NDA form. It also supposes that the form was filled out by “somebody else than the applicant”.
But the documents accessed by HT show that Singh’s application form for admission to the National Defence Academy, the Indian Military Academy dossier, the Army List and Recruiting Branch particulars verified by the Intelligence Bureau all list his DoB as May 10, 1950. The law ministry’s opinion is based only entirely on records that show Singh younger.
The controversy arose in May 2006 when the Military Secretary’s branch detected two different DoBs for Singh in its official records. The army chief had been maintaining his DoB as May 10, 1951, in his confidential reports and service record --- contrary to the DoB shown in other official documents.
The then military secretary, Lt Gen Richard Khare, asked Singh in a letter dated May 3, 2006, “to reflect the correct date of birth, which is May 10, 1950” in his records. Sticking to his claim,
“The date given in the UPSC form was filled as per details given by the school clerk and the same was subsequently maintained till the original certificate was received. In the absence of the original certificate the error made due to what the clerk gave continued,” Singh wrote back to Khare.
He also claimed that he tried to get his DoB corrected in 1985 and 2002 as per records maintained by the Adjutant General’s branch. The MS branch informed Singh in August 2006 that army rules did not allow any corrections after two years of joining service and his case could not be processed at such a belated stage.
Singh brought up the issue again in 2007. He got no relief again. The then military secretary Lt Gen PR Gangadharan, stated in a confidential letter dated December 20, 2007, that “as per available records the officer (Singh) had not taken up any case for correction of his DoB prior to intimation by the MS branch in May 2006.”
Like his predecessor Gen Khare, Gangadharan recommended that Singh’s DoB should be considered to be May 10, 1950, for the purpose of promotion and retirement. He argued that any correction would be legally unsustainable and would give rise to similar claims by others.
Singh, however, kept seeking clarifications on the DoB issue from the MS branch in 2009 until he was reminded of his commitment, which he promised to honour.