In an unprecedented move, army chief General VK Singh has directly obtained legal opinion on the controversy over his date of birth from former Chief Justice of India VN Khare - the third opinion in his favour after the law ministry put his year of birth at 1950.
If the defence ministry accepts the law ministry's advice and goes against Singh's consistent stand that he was born on May 10, 1951, favourable opinions from three former CJIs may give Singh enough room to seek judicial intervention. Singh has steadfastly refused to comment on the matter.
The controversy arose in May 2006 when two different dates of birth (DoBs) for Singh were detected in the records of the military secretary's (MS) branch, which put his year of birth at 1950, and the adjutant general's branch, which put it at 1951.
If the law ministry has its way, Singh will hang up his boots next year. If not, he will retire in 2013.
Singh was promoted as army chief in March 2010 on the basis of his 1950 DoB. But a junior official of the law ministry in response to a Right to Information query supported Singh's argument that he was born in 1951, citing his matriculation certificate.
The controversial opinion was overturned by the then law minister M Veerappa Moily, following advice from the attorney general, who held 1950 to be the chief's correct year of birth.
In Khare's opinion May 10, 1951 should be accepted as Singh's DoB.
Singh sought Khare's opinion after the law ministry stated that army rules debar any corrections in a DoB after two years of joining service and the matter should be buried following Singh's written undertakings, accepting 1950 as his year of birth.
Khare rejected this argument, saying, "It was done by Singh on the threat of 'appropriate action' to be taken by the MS branch," in an apparent reference to the commitment having been obtained under duress.
Earlier, the army had sought opinions from former CJIs JS Verma and GB Patnaik, who too backed Singh's contention. Khare said, "It is inexplicable why the MS branch chose to remain silent for 35 years."
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.