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Saturday, 4 February 2012

From Today's Papers - 04 Feb 2012
SC posers to Defence Ministry on Army Chief’s age row
R Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 3
The government today had a tough time defending Defence Minister AK Antony’s decision to treat Army Chief Gen VK Singh’s date of birth (DoB) as May 10, 1950 and not as May 10, 1951, as the Supreme Court repeatedly questioned the logic behind the minister’s order based on the second advice of Attorney General GE Vahanvati.

Pointing out that Antony’s ruling had come on a statutory complaint of Gen Singh challenging the MoD’s similar decision that was also taken on the AG’s advice, a Bench comprising Justices RM Lodha and HL Gokhale found fault with the procedure followed by Antony.

The Bench noted that the act of seeking the AG’s advice, particularly when Gen Singh had in a way questioned an identical opinion given by the AG earlier, “appears to have vitiated” the decision-making process and as such the procedure adopted by Antony would not “stand the test of the principles of natural justice or the ultra vires”, the basic features of the Constitution.

After the remarks by the Bench, Vahanvati, appearing for the Centre, said he would take instructions from the government as to whether Antony’s order should be withdrawn to enable Gen Singh to file a fresh statutory complaint with the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT). At this, the Bench posted the next hearing for February 10.

The Bench was hearing for the first time a petition filed by Gen VK Singh, challenging two orders -- one passed on July 21, 2011 by the ministry and another on December 30, 2011 by Antony. Both orders said his DoB would be treated as 1950 and not as 1951, as claimed by him on the basis of his matriculation certificate and several other documents.

During the arguments that lasted nearly one hour, the AG contended that the minister had taken his decision “independent” of his opinion or of the views of four former Chief Justices of India -- JS Verma, RC Lahoti, GB Patnaik and VN Khare - that had been provided by Gen Singh. Unconvinced, the Bench asked the AG as to how he knew that his opinion had no bearing on the decision taken by the minister. On the other hand, the AG questioned the maintainability of Gen Singh’s petition, contending that the DoB dispute was essentially a service matter and as such he could not have come to the apex court bypassing the AFT.

At this, the Bench said this might pose practical problems as some AFT members could be either junior or senior to Gen Singh. Further, Gen Singh could approach the AFT only if Antony’s December 30 order, passed on a statutory complaint, was withdrawn or quashed.

At one stage, the Bench said it could quash the minister’s order, if the government so wanted to enable Gen Singh to approach the AFT. At the same time, it pointed out that it would be difficult for Gen Singh to get the issue resolved before his retirement that was only four months away in the event of his DoB being treated as 1950. Also, anyway the matter would have to come to the SC for final adjudication even after the AFT ruling, they pointed out.

The Bench also wanted to know the significance of the Army List that showed Gen Singh’s age as 1950.

court observations

l The entire process of deciding General VK Singh’s age “appears to be vitiated”

l Why was the Attorney General consulted a second time when the first order was passed on the basis of his opinion?

l “No independent evaluation” of Gen Singh’s complaint since the AG had given his opinion in both cases

l There are other remedies available for Gen Singh if the government withdraws its December 30 order

The age controversy

l The controversy stems from two sets of records with the Adjutant General and Military Secretary branches of the Army, one shows May 10, 1951 and the other May 10, 1950

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

l But Military Secretary Branch’s set of records show he was born in 1950, which means Singh is due to retire in May this year
Ministry weighs its options
Ajay Banerjee/TNS

New Delhi, February 3
The Ministry of Defence today began consultations on its options following the queries posed by the Supreme Court today in the Army Chief’s case over discrepancies in his date of birth.

While the Supreme Court asked the Attorney General to secure instructions from the Ministry on whether it was ready to withdraw its order on December 30, 2011 rejecting the Army Chief’s statutory complaint. Conversely, the court suggested, it could strike down the order and start hearing the case on merit.

Any decision to withdraw the order would mean a loss of face for the Ministry, which barely two weeks ago had asked the Army to reconcile the dates of birth of the Chief and report compliance. It could also imply that the Ministry would have to seek ‘independent’ legal opinion from people other than the A.G. and re-open the Army Chief’s statutory complaint.

With the Minister of Defence A.K. Antony being away in Kerala, and expected to return only on Monday, no decision is likely to be taken in a hurry. But the Ministry will have to firm up its position by Thursday or even earlier. The MoD, said sources in the Defence Ministry, would in all probability prefer to leave it to the wisdom of the apex court.

The Ministry’s position is that it had gone strictly by rules, that it cannot make an exception and that consulting the A.G. was its prerogative. It also maintains that it has been consistent and in both July and in December, it had turned down General V.K. Singh’s request to ‘change’ his year of birth from 1950 to 1951.

There is realisation, however, that if the apex court does quash the order of December 30 as ‘unconstitutional’, the legal fall-out could be far-reaching and affect a lot more than just the immediate case.

Sources in the Ministry held that they are more worried that the ministry could be made to look like a culprit in the eyes of the average citizen although the DoB mess is ‘a creation of the Army and its two branches’ that maintained different sets of DoBs for the Chief for the past four decades.

A senior Defence official said on condition of anonymity that in case the December 30 order is withdrawn by the MoD on its own, it would amount to acceptance by the Government that it made a mistake in treating Gen Singh’s case. The overall implications of withdrawing the order, therefore, are being closely studied, he added.
Russian choppers to combat Red terror
Ajay Banerjee/TNS

New Delhi, February 3
In what will increase the capacity and speed of airdropping troops in Naxal-hit areas, the Ministry of Home Affairs is procuring six medium-lift choppers from Russia to be used by paramilitary forces undertaking counter-insurgency operations. The air wing of the Border Security Force (BSF) will soon get the latest Mi-17 V-5 choppers - the same that are now being provided to the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Equipped with night flying capability, advanced sensors and electronic equipment, each such chopper can airdrop up to 20 armed troops in any area at a short notice. It can hover over a spot for considerable period, thereby enabling troops to slither down in a selected area.

The MHA has opted that it will not use the Dhruv choppers produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and operated successfully by the Army aviation corps and the IAF. The MHA opted out after a few crashes and also due to the small size of Dhruv which cannot carry more than five troops. The MHA could have opted for the latest version of Dhruv - the Mark-II - which is much more powerful and fitted with France-built Turmomeca engine.

The MHA has now asked the Ministry of Defence that its demand of six choppers may be clubbed with the existing purchase of 80 Mi-17 V-5 choppers being made by the MoD at the cost of $1.35 billion (Rs 7,500 crore). The first lot of around 20 choppers has already arrived and will be formally inducted over the next few weeks in Punjab for IAF operations.

The MHA demand will be addition to the IAF demand and the BSF may get its choppers when the next lot arrives from Russia in the coming months. This not that the MHA is seeking choppers on lease for the IAF, said sources while adding that this was the first time that the MHA is inducting such high-end machines. The Mi-17 is also being used by US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Sources said the MHA found it wise to have the Mi-17 type of choppers. The latest variant Mi-17 V5 variant will have the ability to allow the pilots to start the engines at altitudes of 6,000 m (about 21,000 ft). Each of the two engines can generate 2,200 hp of power. This is a significant improvement over the previous version - Mi-17-IV-which has two engines of 1,950 hp each.

The IAF aims to utilise the Mi-17-V5 helicopters for special heli-borne operations, air-maintenance, transportation of troops and equipment, search and rescue, casualty evacuation and in armed helicopter roles. Such versatility will now also be at the command of the MHA.

The IAF has been operating various types on ‘Mi’ series choppers over the past 40 years. This includes the famous heli-borne operations to drop guns and troops in East Pakistan and also its use during the initial stages of the Kargil war in 1999. The chopper is considered a workhorse in the far-flung areas of Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas.
Army chief vs Govt begins in Supreme Court, this round to the General

Read more at:
New Delhi:  The chief of the Indian Army, General V K Singh, won the first round of his legal battle against the government in the Supreme Court today. The judges said that the process used by the government to reject his claim that he was born in 1951 and not 1950 is defective or "vitiated". The government has been told to either withdraw that decision, taken on December 30, or have it officially over-ruled by the court. The next hearing has been scheduled for February 10. 
The problem, the Supreme Court said, lies in the role played by the Attorney General GE Vahanvati. The two judges said that in July last year, the Defence Ministry consulted the Attorney General about General Singh's claim. Mr Vahanvati opined against the Army chief. When General Singh filed a statutory complaint against that decision, the Attorney General was again part of the process of rejecting the complaint. The court has questioned how the same legal officer's advice was used again when deciding on the General's appeal in December.

The judges said, "The material on record will not withstand the test of principle of natural justice." The Attorney General said, "If you want, I will not appear (in the case)." He said he will ask the government to respond to the court's stand on the need to withdraw its order of December 30 against the chief.

The fact that the next Supreme Court hearing is a week later gives the government and the General more time to explore the terms of a possible compromise. Last evening, General Singh, wearing civilian clothes, met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, triggering speculation that both sides remain keen to find a truce. The unprecedented gesture of taking the government to court has led to a national debate over whether this was an embarrassment that the armed forces and the government could or should have deterred.

Sources in the government say that the severity of the court's observations today has taken the Defence Minister and his officials by surprise. Privately, some were confident that the case would either be dismissed or sent to the Armed Forces Tribunal, where the matter would likely take months to resolve, allowing General Singh to retire, as scheduled, at the end of May. But the Supreme Court flagged that as problematic, pointing out that there are only four months before he has to step down. The judges also said though the tribunal is headed by its retired judge, it has officers as members as well, and some could be either the general's juniors, or have served as his seniors at some point.

General Singh has said in his petition to the Supreme Court that the government's refusal to accept his age has affected his image among the public and the armed forces. He has argued that "an army chief has a right to retire with dignity". He has said he recognizes the government's right to determine his tenure. But the fact is that if his claim is accepted and 1951 is used as his year of birth, he becomes eligible for another year in office. 

The Army has, for three decades, maintained records with both 1950 and 1951 as General Singh's year of birth. The chief says that he has tried on several occasions to have the records corrected, but his appeals were turned down. General Singh pleads that 1951 is the correct year. The government says that documents with the Army's official record-keeper, the Adjutant General, list 1950, and it is these documents that were used to give General Singh several promotions, including the last one that made him the head of the Army.

Read more at:
Improve ties to multiply trade with India, says expert
Economic and defence experts have called for a slash in the defence budget and improvement in ties with neighbouring India to capture its huge market, said a press release issued by the IRS.

“Trade with India can multiply five times if Pakistan captures even 1% of the country’s market of 300 million middle class,” former State Bank governor Dr Ishrat Hussain said while speaking at a discussion session organised by Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) on Friday.

According to Dr Ishrat, “Army is onboard regarding trade with India and the weak industries can be protected through negative list.”

Referring to two-year trade waiver for Pakistan by World Trade Organisation (WTO), he said that it would boost trade with the European Union. However with bed linen taken off the list, the 300 million Euros of benefit expected from duty-free access to the European markets will now be reduced 100 million Euros. The waiver was offered to help Pakistan after the devastating 2010 floods.

Dr Hussain, currently Dean and Director of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi, strongly believed that Pakistan can turn around its economy if it exercises strict fiscal discipline and plugs gaping holes caused by bad governance in different sectors of the economy.

He argued that energy shortage is crippling production; poor tax base and collection is worsening tax to GDP ratio; sick public sector corporations are becoming a drain on budget; lack of prioritisation in federal and provincial governments development plans is causing delays and increasing cost of the projects; nondevelopment expenditure are eating up meagre resources; after 18th amendment provinces have become richer but are not sharing burden of defence and debt servicing which is the sole responsibility of the federal government; and finally lack of local government system is hurting social sector development.

He said the energy shortage can be managed by resolving the issue of circular debt. A five-year investment bond can be floated to meet the flow cost. Functioning of power companies should be streamlined, private vehicles should be switched over to petrol and industry should be provided with gas.

Government should go ahead with IPI and TAPI gas pipeline projects, he added. He strongly favoured income tax on agriculture produce, and all kind of businesses; he also recommended  privatisation of public sector corporations like PIA, steel mill and railway; re-configuring of development projects on priority basis; cutting down of non-development expenditure and creation of conducive environment for private sector.

He suggested integrated budget to be worked out between federal and provincial governments under CCI that would synchronise and prioritise plans and expenditures. Finally he supported a reformed LG system ensuring participation of the local communities in the development plans.
No defence
While the Supreme Court’s observations on the age issue of Army Chief Gen V K Singh have caused significant embarrassment to the Defence Ministry, one man who is feeling the heat more than the others, though unnoticed, is Subhash Chandra, the Joint Secretary who prepared the detailed notes on the basis of which many decisions were taken by the ministry. This 1986-batch IAS officer has come under criticism, especially on the manner in which he drafted questions seeking advice for the ministry from the Attorney General.
Air Marshal rejects US report on India-China 'limited' war
A top military officer on Friday dismissed a US intelligence assessment that the Indian Army is strengthening itself for a "limited conflict" with China, asserting the country's armed forces are more of deterrence to rivals.
"The US intelligence publishes reports specially pertaining
to other countries ... our strong armed forces are more of deterrence to enemies eyeing our territories," Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Headquarters Training Command, Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja told reporters in Bangalore.

India does not have any territorial aspirations and is a peaceful country, Kukreja said, adding, "to maintain peace, the country needs to have strong armed forces."

Director of US National Intelligence James Clapper had early this week said, "The Indian Army believes a major Sino-Indian conflict is not imminent, but the Indian military is strengthening its forces in preparation to fight a limited conflict along the disputed border, and is working to balance Chinese power projection in the Indian Ocean."

India is looking at peaceful interaction with nations in the wake of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying Indian strategic interests have extended up to countries like Vietnam, Kukreja said.

Asked if the US was having any motive behind predicting limited India-China conflict, he said "I can't say there is any motive ... Every country has self-interest and it works accordingly."

To a query if Chinese acquisitions were a cause of worry for India, Kukreja claimed, "Chinese technology is not sound compared to India's."

"Of whatever I have seen in the market ... Chinese toys break within two months ... a DVD and a camera lasts for one month ... Whatever we are acquiring and developing is far better than the Chinese ...," Kukreja said.

Replying to another query, he said the armed forces are prepared 24/7 and there should not be any cause for worry on "war" preparedness.

"Even though we have not been at war for over four decades, we are prepared 24/7 for 365 days," he said.
India court questions Delhi role in army chief row
India's Supreme Court has questioned the government's decisions in its row with the head of the army over his retirement age.

General VK Singh is seeking a court ruling to establish his date of birth as 10 May 1951.

The government has issued an order setting his birthday a year earlier, meaning he should step down this year.

The court ordered the government to explain its stance and fixed a hearing for 10 February.

Gen Singh - a highly decorated soldier who became army chief in March 2010 - argues that the issue relates to his "integrity and honour".

It is the first time a serving chief of the Indian armed forces has petitioned the Supreme Court against the government.

If he wins he will be able to retire a year later, in 2013.

The government issued an order in December rejecting Gen Singh's complaint about the decision to fix his birthday as 10 May 1950.

That decision was made in July last year because the army appeared to have both dates in its records.
'Natural justice'

The Supreme Court on Friday said December's order appeared to be impaired and asked the government whether it wished to reconsider it.

The judges based their ruling on the role of the attorney general, questioning whether it was right that the official who fixed the general's age last July should also be involved in the rejection of the general's complaint.

"We are not concerned as much with the decision but we are concerned with the decision-making process," the judges said.

"The material on record will not withstand the test of the principle of natural justice."

Analysts say this appears to be an initial victory for the general.

He has said he went to court "after exhausting all statutory options within the defence ministry".

The NDTV channel quoted sources as saying that Gen Singh had met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday evening amid suggestions of a compromise, although no breakthrough was reported.

The sources said one compromise could see the government accepting the general was not guilty of misrepresenting his age, while Gen Singh would withdraw his case.

Opposition parties have criticised the government for its handling of the dispute.
Army chief meets Pranab, no breakthrough on age row
New Delhi: The Indian Army chief, General V.K. Singh Thursday met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee over the raging age row, a day before the Supreme Court is likely to take up the issue.

But the meeting ended without any breakthrough even as the two were keen to solve the impasse, sources privy to the meeting said.

Earlier, there was a buzz in the defence ministry that a compromise may be in the offing between the general and the government locked in a bitter controversy over his varying dates of birth.

The sources said that two sides stuck to their points and then left the matter to be decided by the apex court, which is likely to take up the matter for hearing Friday.

The meeting that lasted for about half an hour took place at Mukherjee's South Block office late in the evening. Interestingly, Gen Singh in civil clothes did not use his official army vehicle to drive up to the finance minister's office.

The army chief moved the Supreme Court after the defence ministry in December rejected his statutory complaint, requesting a change of his year of birth in official records to 1951 from 1950.
The controversy stems from two sets of records with the Adjutant General's and Military Secretary's branches of the Indian Army.

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

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

The defence ministry last week wrote to the adjutant general, military secretary and the comptroller general of defence accounts that Singh's officially recognised date of birth will remain as May 10, 1950 and all records should be reconciled accordingly.

The matter will now be decided by a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice R.M. Lodha.

In his plea, Singh has accused the government of treating him in a manner that 'reflects total lack of procedure and principles of natural justice and that too on an opinion obtained from the attorney general'.

He took the unprecedented step of dragging the government to the court after the defence ministry insisted upon treating 1950, as his official year of birth.

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