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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

From Today's Papers - 18 Jan 2012
India, China set up border mechanism
Ashok Tuteja/TNS

New Delhi, January 17
Seeking to end flare-ups on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) from time to time, India and China today established a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on the boundary issue to maintain peace and tranquility along their border.

The agreement was signed between the two sides at the end of the 15th round of talks between the Special Representatives (SRs) of the two countries here. The Indian delegation was led by National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon while the Chinese team was headed by State Councillor Dai Bingguo.

The two SRs agreed that they would prepare a joint agreed record for their governments on the progress made so far during their talks on the long-standing boundary dispute.

A joint statement said the two sides also discussed other bilateral, regional and global issues. The discussions were wide-ranging, productive, forward-looking and marked by a commonality of views on many issues.

Making a positive appraisal of the current state of bilateral relations, the two SRs noted the importance of regular high-level exchanges and strengthened cooperation across different areas between the two countries.

They also agreed that there was scope for greater coordination on regional and global issues. It was decided that the next round of the SR talks would be held in China.

The working mechanism, to be headed by a Joint Secretary- level official from the Ministry of External Affairs and a Director General level official from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, will comprise diplomatic and military officials from the two sides.

It was agreed that the working mechanism, which was mooted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, would study ways and means to conduct and strengthen exchanges and cooperation between military personnel and establishments of the two sides in the border areas and will also explore the possibility of cooperation in the border areas.

Both sides also agreed that the working mechanism would undertake other tasks that are mutually agreed upon by the two sides, but would not discuss the resolution of the boundary question or affect the SR mechanism.

It will address issues and situations that may arise in the border areas that affect the maintenance of peace and tranquillity and will work actively toward maintaining the friendly atmosphere between the two countries.

It will hold consultations once or twice every year alternately in India and China. Emergency consultations, if required, may be convened after mutual agreement.

Pact for peace

    The two sides have established a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on the boundary issue to maintain peace and tranquility along their border.
    The agreement was signed at the end of the 15th round of talks between the Special Representatives (SRs) of the two countries.
    The two SRs agreed that they would prepare a joint agreed record for their governments on the progress made so far during their talks on the long-standing boundary dispute.
Gen Singh’s age row
Forces’ morale is of vital importance

Army Chief General V.K. Singh’s decision to drag the Union government to the Supreme Court over the dispute regarding his date of birth is unprecedented for a serving service chief and reflects a regrettable escalation in the stand-off between the Army and the Union government. Significantly, if General Singh’s date of birth is taken as May 10, 1951, for which he is fighting, he will retire 10 months later than now stipulated, in 2013. This will have an effect on who will succeed him as the next Army Chief. That perhaps explains the heightened interest within the Army and some behind-the-scene activity that is going on.

While the merits of the case will presumably be contested bitterly in the court, it is unfortunate that the matter was allowed to come to such a pass. The controversy arose due to different sets of records maintained in the Adjutant General and Military Secretary branches of the Army headquarters. While the Adjutant General’s branch, which deals with pay, perks and pensions, maintains General Singh’s date of birth as May 10, 1951, the military secretary’s office, which deals with appointments and promotions, has it as May 10, 1950, in its records. It indeed speaks poorly of the system of military administration that this issue has been hanging fire for such a long time without a firm decision one way or another. It was also incumbent on General Singh to have insisted over time to get the records reconciled and straightened out even as the issue came to the fore every time he was promoted.

It would be in the fitness of things if the tangle is resolved speedily whether inside the court or outside it so that it does not grievously affect the morale of the armed forces. The attention of the forces cannot be allowed to be diverted from the defence of the country’s borders, come what may. Both the Union government and General Singh need to ponder over the consequences of failing to deal with the issue speedily and sensitively.
Govt ready to battle it out with Army Chief
Ajay Banerjee & R Sedhuraman/TNS

New Delhi, January 17
After being blighted by Army Chief General VK Singh’s writ petition filed in the Supreme Court yesterday, the Union Government today got down to exploring various options for tackling the issue.
n Defence Ministry files caveat in SC
n Antony discusses issue with PM
n Defence Secy called back from Malaysia

The Ministry of Defence filed a caveat in the Supreme Court pleading that the court should not pass any order without seeking its views on the petition filed by the General.

Certain sections within the government said they were “pained” at the move of the Army Chief and termed it as a “bad precedent.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister AK Antony held a series of meetings with officials concerned to arrive at the best possible option and weighed various repercussions of each move. Sacking the General is not being considered, said sources, adding the government could not have changed the rules to correct the date of birth of the Army Chief as asked by him on the basis of his matriculation certificate. Rules specify a stipulated period for correcting an employee’s age and that period has already elapsed in the case.

The PM was reportedly briefed by Attorney-General GE Vahanvati on the issue. Sources said the government could take a position that the case be heard in the Armed Forces Tribunal as it was a service matter. However, it seems unlikely that the apex court would agree to such a request of the government and not take up the petition of the Army Chief.

To start with, the government has also considered that a new Chief of the Army could be appointed straightaway while General VK Singh can also continue in service and be asked to proceed on leave till the pendency of his plea in the apex court. This would mean having two four-star Generals. The confusion over the DoB stems from the fact that the Army, all these years, has been maintaining two records. The Military Secretary’s (MS) office says the DoB of the Army Chief is May 10, 1950, while the Adjutant General’s (AG) branch lists it as May 10, 1951. Among the things discussed today was the fact that the MS and the AG both work under the Army Chief. The controversy could give the government a handle to wrest control of these two wings, each of which is headed by a Lt General-rank official.

Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma, who was in Malaysia, was called back immediately. He held a series of meetings with Defence Minister AK Antony over the issue during the day.

The government then filed a caveat pleading with the Supreme Court not to pass any order without seeking its views. The ministry has approached the SC despite the fact that the apex court normally does not issue any order on such issues without hearing the other side. This shows that the government does not want to take any chances in the case.

Gen VK Singh has contended that he was fighting the case not to delay his retirement, slated for May 31 this year, but to have his honour and integrity intact. It is not clear as to when the petition filed by the Army Chief would be listed for hearing in the apex court.
Army chief's age row: Govt moves in Supreme Court

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New Delhi:  The battle between chief of the Indian Army General VK Singh and the government over his age is moving at rapid-fire speed. The Prime Minister met Defence Minister AK Antony today as   the government prepped the ground for its defense in the Supreme Court, where it will maintain that it has to treat 1950 as General Singh's year of birth.  The government has filed a caveat on the petition moved by General Singh yesterday - so while he has asked the court for an urgent review of the government's decision, the government has requested that the court not pass any order without hearing the government.

General Singh yesterday became the first serving military chief to take the government to court. 

In the Supreme Court, the government will defend its decision to use 1950 as the year of birth for the General.  This date means that the chief has to retire at the end of May. Mr Singh has in his court petition asked the government to explain why it won't accept his claim of being born in 1951.   He also said that his case is to protect his honour and integrity, and is not aimed at extending his tenure.  General Singh took over as Army chief on March 31, 2010. He says his correct date of birth is May 10, 1951. If this were accepted, technically he would be eligible for another year in the top office.  Different documents with the Army list 1950 and 1951 for him.  The government says that records which use 1950 super-cede the others, and were taken into account for different promotions that were granted to the chief.

The Congress defended the government's stand and said it is for the courts to decide. "The Army Chief has taken a stand. Whether his stand is right or the government's stand is right is not for you and me to decide but for the courts. The Chief himself has said that it is a personal issue and those in the Opposition who are trying to make this as Government versus Army is doing great disservice to the country," said Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress Spokesperson.

General Singh has gone to the Supreme Court after all internal appeals to the Ministry of Defence were turned down.  The government had in the last few weeks made it clear that it did not doubt Mr Singh's claim. However, "rules are rules," Law Minister Salman Khurshid told NDTV, pointing out that documents that incorrectly stated the General's age should have been corrected earlier. 

The dispute over General Singh's age began in 2006 when a bureaucrat noticed two different dates in his records when his name came up from promotion and sought clarification from the Military Secretary's branch which handles promotions. The Military Secretary's branch had the year of birth down as 1950 and that's what it shared with the Defence Ministry without cross-checking the date with Adjutant General's branch, which is the official record keeper for the Army Officers.

In 2008, for another promotion, the Army Headquarters asked the General to accept 1950 as his official age, giving him 24 hours to do so or else face disciplinary action. The then Army Chief and the Military Secretary said that other people in the queue were also suffering due to the delay in this case. Faced with an ultimatum, General Singh wrote back the same day to say "Whatever decision is taken in the organization's interest is acceptable to me."

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10 big facts about Government vs Army chief

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New Delhi:  The battle over the Army chief's age is now in the Supreme Court. General VK Singh has become the first serving Army chief to take the government to court. Here are 10 things you should know about the dispute.

    What's the problem? General VK Singh says he was born on May 10, 1951; the government says it has to go by documents that list his date of birth as 1950. The General has appealed twice to the Defence Ministry in recent past to accept his claim. Earlier too, he had asked the Army Headquarters to correct his date of birth. That did not work. So he has now taken the government to court. He filed a petition in the Supreme Court yesterday.
    What's the confusion? Documents within the Army show conflicting dates. At least two say General Singh was born on May 10, 1950; a majority - including his ID card, his service record, his medical reports and his promotions upto the rank of Lt. Gen say he was born on May 10, 1951. The government says that General Singh should have moved to have the changes in the records much earlier - rules say this must be done within two years of the documents being presented by the officer to the army. General Singh says he is not asking for change but only cirrection.

    Is this about his tenure? General Singh has said he wants to protect his honour and integrity - basically, have the government accept his claim, so it's clear that he did not try to misrepresent the facts. He also says that his battle is not about when he should retire. But if the government were to accept 1951 as his date of birth, he would be eligible for another year as the head of the Army.

    What is the government worried about? The Attorney General has advised the government that changing the records now could trigger "large-scale disaffection in the Army." An extension for General Singh in the top office would also alter the succession plans.

    Some key documents: The General says his matriculation or school-leaving certificate shows 1951 as his date of birth and should be given considerable weight. However, his entrance form for the National Defence Academy (NDA) states 1950 as his year of birth - this is a document that the government says it cannot ignore. General Singh says it was a mistake which was corrected well in time.

    The government has said it has no doubts about General Singh's integrity. "Just nobody...nobody should believe that the General has not spoken the truth," said Law Minister Salman Khurshid last week to NDTV. But "rules are rules," he added.

    Who else is involved? A Public Interest Litigation or PIL has been filed by an ex-officers' association which supports General Singh. This petition will most likely be heard on Friday.

    The dispute over General Singh's age began in 2006 when a bureaucrat noticed two different dates in his records when his name came up for promotion and sought clarification from the Military Secretary's branch, which handles promotions. The Military Secretary's branch had the year of birth down as 1950 and that's what it shared with the Defence Ministry without cross-checking the date with the Adjutant General's branch, which is the official record-keeper for  army officers.

    In 2008, for another promotion, the Army Headquarters asked the General to accept 1950 as his official age, giving him 24 hours to do so or else face disciplinary action. The then Army Chief and the Military Secretary said that other people in the queue were also suffering due to the delay in this case. Faced with an ultimatum, General Singh wrote back the same day to say "whatever decision is taken in the organisation's interest is acceptable to me."

    The front-runner to replace him has so far been Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, the Eastern Army Commander. However, a court case filed recently accuses him of being involved in a fake encounter in Anantnag in 2001, and has asked for a detailed investigation.

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Govt considering options on Army Chief's SC move
Embarrassed by the unprecedented action of Army Chief General VK Singh in moving the Supreme Court over the issue of his age, the government was tonight finalising its strategy with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh consulting senior ministers.

The government took the expected step of filing a caveat in the Supreme Court requesting to be heard before passing any order on the writ petition filed by General Singh yesterday challenging the Defence Ministry's decision not to accept his position that he was born in 1951.
Defence Minister AK Antony and Law Minister Salman Khurshid held a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the pros and cons of the Army Chief's action. There was no official word on what the government's strategy would be.

However, there was speculation that General Singh may be asked to proceed on leave pending the apex court's view on his petition. But there was no confirmation of such a course from the Ministry of Defence.
Former Admiral says General Singh was 'targeted' for taking on issue of corruption in army

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Former Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat has caused a stir with his comment on Monday that political and other interests were behind the age controversy.

Speaking to Mail Today on Tuesday, he reiterated his charge and said the row was just a smokescreen so that the government could 'push the present head of the institution to forced and premature retirement' and bring in a person of its choice.

Giving out his reasons for why General Singh was being 'targeted', the former admiral said the army chief's tough stand on the issue of corruption in the higher echelons of the army had pitted him against the government.

'Of course, this is the reason. Former chief justice of India J.S. Varma has said Singh had brought in probity and honesty.

'He is being moved out just when large arms deals are going to be signed. Which means that the arms lobby and a few people who are going to be affected are behind this,' Bhagwat alleged.

Without elaborating, he said 'external interests', which included countries, arms lobbies and political parties with vested interests, were trying to destabilise the armed forces and hence were planting stories against Singh. Bhagwat also faulted the government's 'line of succession' stand for rejecting the army chief's plea, saying there was no such thing in the army.

'The line of succession is a concept which is related to royalty and monarchy. We are a republic and in a republic, there is no place for 'line of succession'.

The attorney general has been repeating the same thing (line of succession) again and again simply because he has no other argument,' Bhagwat said.

He added that the only time the 'line of succession' is used is when the commander of an army formation is killed in action.

Then, it is laid down, that the second in command will take over that formation.

'Surely, when the attorney general is talking about the line of succession, he is not referring to that,' he said.

Picking holes in the government's stand, the former navy chief said law minister Salman Khurshid claimed that while the government held General V.K. Singh in high esteem, it has to go by the rules.

But the government's action, Bhagwat claimed, was contrary to rules.

'The government has to go by the provisions of the statutory Act of the army, navy and air force.

'The joint secretary, which is the nodal point for the army in the defence ministry, has already categorically stated that Singh's year of birth was 1951. So that closes the issue,' he said.

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India army chief asks Supreme Court: How old am I?
NEW DELHI (AP) — The Indian government and its army chief are asking the Supreme Court to answer a peculiar question: Just how old is the nation's top soldier?

Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh says he was born in May 1951 and will not reach the mandatory retirement age of 62 until next year. But India's Defense Ministry says its records show he was born a year earlier and must retire in four months.

The disagreement, the first time a serving general has dragged the government to court, is complicated because Singh's army records and school certificates show different dates. Like many Indians of his generation, Singh has no birth certificate.

Singh filed a Supreme Court petition Monday challenging the government's assertion that he is 61. On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry asked the court for time to present its own evidence.

Singh took over as army chief nearly two years ago and insists his case is not about getting an extra year in power.

"It's all about honor and integrity, not tenure," Singh was quoted as saying in the Times of India.

The Defense Ministry has said that it will stick to 1950 as Singh's year of birth.

Defense Minister A.K. Antony met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Cabinet members Tuesday to discuss the government's strategy in the dispute.

Opposition parties said the army chief's removal was likely to affect troop morale.

"The mindlessness of the government in handling a sensitive situation will have its consequences," Jaswant Singh, a former defense minister, warned Tuesday.

India has one of the world's largest armies, with 1.2 million soldiers and nearly another million in reserves.
Martial differences
If a Martian wanted to find out one fundamental difference between India and Pakistan, all he would need to do is pick up the paper and look at yesterday’s two top stories both involving army chiefs of the two countries. Pakistan first. While the latest turn of events has pitted Pakistan’s
civilian government — itself a giveaway term that suggests that there could be any other kind of government in that country — against its judiciary, the real wrangle is between President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistani army led by Ashfaq Kayani.

In ‘better’ times, General Kayani would have been able to conduct a coup and get things back in order, if only for a while. This time, however, in a scenario where the army is livid at Mr Zardari for secretly passing on a memo to the American administration seeking protection against an, um, army coup, as well busy facing off hordes of Islamicist extremists, the Pakistani military is in the news for less capable reasons.

In contrast, the news that the Indian army chief is making across the border has little to do with a genuine, institutional stand-off with the government — yes, the only one India ever had was the civilian government. It’s about General VK Singh insisting that he’s a year younger than the government believes he is. He has now gone to court over what is a human resource quarrel about whether he should stay on as Chief of Army Staff for another year or not. Despite what army canteen rum-drinkers insist about the issue signalling a breakdown in the Indian Army-government relations, this isn’t what one may call the stuff of constitutional crises.

So in a snapshot, one can get the relationship that both ‘democracies’ have with their armed forces. If the Pakistani example triggers a nostalgia for the army’s ability to become the (strict) adults necessary when the children are making a mess of things, the Indian example shows that the army has a more specialised role in the country. And that this birth certificate imbroglio is just a sideshow worthy of bureaucrats.
AK Antony treating a sensitive matter in insensitive manner: BJP
AK Antony treating a sensitive matter in insensitive manner: BJP
Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh on Tuesday accused the government of handling the sensitive issue of Army Chief General VK Singh's age in an "insensitive" manner saying the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister could have sorted it out with him.

He felt the army chief need not not resign.

"I am amazed at his (Defence Minister ) incompetence and sheer folly of treating such a sensitive matter in an insensitive manner," he said.

Replying to questions on the army chief approaching the Supreme Court seeking correction of his date of birth on the army records, the former Defence Minister said Gen Singh was not not seeking extension of service for the prize of office but only rectification of records.

"Could the Defence Minister or the Prime Minister not not stopped or asked the army chief .....walked to his office and sort out this elementary matter of sorting government records," he said.

Asked if Gen Singh should resign now now that he has approached the court, Jaswant Singh said "why should he.Is that what bureaucracy wants him to do?"

Maintaining that the civilian government's approach to the army chief's age issue as "extremely distasteful", he said the army cannot be treated in this fashion as there was such a disconnect between the civilian government and the military.

Jaswant Singh said just because the army chief sought correction of the "wrong" record the government cannot treat it as "mutinous behaviour".

He said he was not not supporting the army chief as an individual but as an institution. "I am supporting the institution of Chief of Army Staff, not not as a person. Don't blunt the sword arm of the country," he said.
For India’s Army, Dispute Over Chief’s Age Rattles Leadership
NEW DELHI — Certainly, India’s army already has plenty to keep it busy. To the northeast lies China, which is quietly but rapidly expanding its military presence along the border. To the northwest lies nuclear-armed Pakistan, which has already fought three wars with India and is now wobbling with political instability.
Yet for weeks, the Indian Army has been embroiled in an achingly public dispute not about national security but about the birth date of its chief. In a drama that has set off emotional sparring on television talk shows and condemnation in newspaper editorials, the army chief, Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh, has insisted that he was born on May 10, 1951. But India’s government has insisted that, no, he was born on May 10, 1950.

The answer to the dispute could determine whether General Singh retires in May or 10 months later, as military regulations stipulate that the army chief must step down after three years on the job or upon his 62nd birthday, whichever comes first.

The controversy, which has direct bearing on the succession schedule of India’s military command, peaked on Monday when General Singh unexpectedly took the matter to India’s Supreme Court. He filed a petition asking the justices to decide a seemingly simple question: When was he born?

“This is about his pride, integrity and honor,” said Puneet Bali, one of the lawyers involved in the general’s petition.

It is a tale of pride and paperwork, of honor and hubris (and clerical typos) that has become an embarrassment to India’s Ministry of Defense and the country’s 1.3 million-member army. Some critics have blamed the ministry for badly mishandling the issue, while others have blamed General Singh for pursuing the matter as a way to extend his tenure in the top job.

The situation has created the uncomfortable appearance of India’s military leadership squaring off against its civilian leaders. It has also created some awkward political spectacles: On Sunday, General Singh played host to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defense Minister A. K. Antony to celebrate the country’s 64th Army Day. The next day, he sued the government in the Supreme Court.

“There was an element of surprise,” said Ashok Mehta, a retired general who has been critical of General Singh’s actions. “One of the principles of war is deception. I think he let people believe he wasn’t actually going to court.”

The practical impact of the case concerns the schedule for leadership changes within the Indian Army. General Singh, who served with distinction in the 1971 war against Pakistan, assumed the army’s top job on March 31, 2010. By this timetable, General Singh is scheduled to step down in May, based on the 1950 birth date cited by the government.

However, General Singh’s contention that he is actually younger, if upheld, could make him eligible to remain on the job and complete a full three-year term.

In his few public comments, General Singh has dismissed accusations that he is trying to cling to his position and has denied that he is fighting with the Defense Ministry. “It is not something for personal gains, so far as I’m concerned,” General Singh recently told the news channel NDTV.

For all the juicy media appeal of the country’s top general suing the government he is sworn to defend, the case is also about one of the banes of Indian life: the mountains of paperwork required by the country’s bureaucracy. It is not definitively clear how, when or why the conflicting dates began to appear, but as the general began to rise through the ranks, he had two birthdays registered in the army’s clerical system. The adjutant general’s branch listed his birth year as 1951. The military secretary’s branch put the year as 1950. Somewhere, a typo occurred.

The general himself seemingly accepted the 1950 birth date at critical moments in his career. In his last three promotions, culminating in his 2010 appointment as army chief, his birth year was listed as 1950 on official records. But General Singh has argued that he was pressured to accept that false date, according to Indian media accounts. Last year, the general filed an administrative complaint, seeking to have the date changed to 1951; the complaint wended through the system until the Defense Ministry issued a final rejection.

As the controversy percolated in recent months, India’s political leaders tried to reassure the public that the situation was not undermining the country’s military readiness. Mr. Antony, the defense minister, publicly endorsed General Singh as a military leader. Other government ministers have said they do not think that General Singh is trying to misrepresent his birth date. Yet they said that India’s cabinet, in appointing him army chief, did so based on records indicating he was born in 1950, which meant he was not expected to serve in the job for a full three years.

“Rules are rules,” Salman Khurshid, the law minister, told the Indian media.

The Supreme Court could choose not to accept General Singh’s petition, thus neither ruling nor interfering in the matter. Or it could hold a full-blown hearing in which the general would be allowed to present evidence supporting his claims to a 1951 birth date.

For many retired military leaders, the whole messy spectacle has been disheartening. Many have blamed both the army and the Ministry of Defense for not correcting the problem years ago. Criticism against General Singh has also been harsh, as some have blamed him for failing to heed the military credo that an officer should always put service before self.

“He may be right, in terms of procedure,” said Uday Bhaskar, a retired Indian Navy commodore. “But what this has done is diminish the institution and tarnish the individual, no matter how unwarranted it may be.”

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