NEW DELHI: In a setback for the government, the Supreme Court Friday questioned the way it had rejected army chief Gen V.K. Singh's plea that his year of birth be restored to 1951 from 1950 and said the entire process "appears to be vitiated".
The court will now hear the case Feb 10 and asked the government if it was inclined to withdraw its Dec 30, 2011 order rejecting Singh's statutory complaint.
The army chief had filed the statutory complaint challenging a July 21, 2011 office memorandum which maintained that his date of birth was May 10, 1950 and not May 10, 1951 as claimed by the general. The July memorandum was issued after obtainin Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati's opinion.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony had Dec 30, 2011 had turned down the complaint in an order that was also based on Vahanvati's opinion.
An apex court bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and H.L. Gokhale observed that the process of deciding Singh's age "appears to be vitiated" because the attorney general didn't need to be consulted a second time.
The apex court gave the option of withdrawing the Dec 30, 2011 order to Vahanvati, who appeared for the defence ministry, after he contended that the complaint filed by the army chief was not maintainable yet the government decided it on merit.
The court adjourned the hearing till Feb 10 to enable the attorney general take instructions from the government on the fate of the Dec 30, 2011 order.
Singh's lawyer Puneet Bali refused to interpret the court's observation, saying the matter was sub judice. He said: "The court has asked for clarifications on the Dec 30 order. The court has basically gone on the principle of justice. It is too premature to say what is going to happen."
The army chief had moved the Supreme Court after the defence ministry rejected his statutory complaint.
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 one set of 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, the 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.