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Defence Minister blames army for chief's age row

Defence Minister A.K. Antony Tuesday blamed the army for the dispute over chief Gen V.K. Singh's age and denied that there was any civil-military confrontation over the issue.

"It happened unfortunately, maybe without any motive, but for 36 years the army maintained two dates of birth... That is why this controversy occurred," Antony told reporters on the sidelines of an awards function here.

It was the first time Antony spoke in detail about the row that is listed for a Supreme Court hearing Friday.

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 age row 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 long pending controversy will end after the Supreme Court order. I agree it is unfortunate. It's not a question of civil-military controversy," Antony said.

He said the fault didn't lie with the government and squarely blamed the army for not correcting the general's date of birth in 36 years of his service.

"Two branches of army maintained two different dates of births and nobody noticed it for 36 years. For the first time in 2006 it came to notice and the then army chief took a decision and told the government. Again in 2008, the then army general gave another recommendation and government accepted it," he said.

Antony said the government only accepted what the then army chiefs recommend during different years and thought that the controversy was over and data amended accordingly.

"We thought it is over but again complaint came to the government last year. Then government took a decision referring it to law ministry and attorney general thrice � that is the only way government can function," the minister said.

Replying to a question on army chief approaching the apex court, Antony said: "The government's decision is not final and it is democracy and anybody can question government's decision and anybody can approach that the court.

"The issue has now gone beyond the government and whatever Supreme Court decides will be final. All should be mentally prepared to accept the decision," he added.

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