SC dismisses plea against Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh

Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh will succeed General V.K. Singh as the army chief when the latter demits office May 31.

An apex court bench of Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice H.L. Gokhale, while dismissing the petition by Admiral (retd) Laxminarayan Ramdas and six others, said: "We don't find any justifiable cause to invoke Article 32 of the constitution. The writ petition is accordingly dismissed."

Justice Lodha asked: "Can a career of a person be put on stake merely on allegations?"

Before rejecting the petition, the court had perused the original files relating to the appointment of Lt. General Bikram Singh as the next army chief.

The judges said Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati placed before them the original files of the cabinet committee on appointments concerning the selection of General V.K. Singh's successor.

"We have carefully gone through the averments and we do not find anything to warrant invoking Article 32 of the constitution," said the court.

The court summoned the file related to the appointment of Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh as the next army chief as it wanted to know the procedure involved in selection of army chief.

After perusing the file, the court told Kamini Jaiswal, who appeared for petitioners, that Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh had been cleared on all counts related to allegations made by her clients and others.

One of the allegations was that his daughter-in-law was a Pakistani national before her marriage.

At this Jaiswal told the court that "this means that the report that has been placed before the appointing authority was misleading".

Jaiswal described Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh's appointment as "malafide". It was manipulated from 2005 when General J.J. Singh was the army chief.

She said that Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh's appointment should be scrutinised in the light of what the court said in a case related to the appointment of former Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas.

As Jaiswal was told that the CVC was a statutory appointment which was not the case with the chief of army staff, she said that "even if statutory provisions are not there, can such a person facing allegations be made chief of army staff".

She told the court that in order to promote Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh, when he was a brigadier, Brigadier Ravi Arora, who was a gold medalist, was denied promotion.

When Brigadier Arora moved a statutory complaint to challenge denial of promotion it was delayed for a long time and eventually dismissed.

The court was told that normally the statutory complaint was decided within three months. At this, the court said that Brigadier Arora and others did not pursue their grievance thereafter.

The petition filed by Jaiswal's clients sought the reconsideration of the decision to appoint Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh as the next army chief as a case was pending in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court on his alleged involvement in a staged shootout death of a 70-year-old man in 2001. The victim was described as terrorist.

Jaiswal told the court that Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh had a low command level over his troops. She said that the court of inquiry was going on in Uttar Pradesh's Meerut city into the conduct of troops under his command in Congo under the UN peacekeeping mission.

She alleged his indecisiveness as general officer commanding-in-chief (GOC-in-C) 15 Corps resulted in a "stone throwing agitation" in Srinagar. During his current posting as GOC-in-C Eastern Command, almost all the funds at the command's disposal were returned as unspent.

As Jaiswal made allegations against Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh, Justice Gokhale observed that this "amounted to maligning our armed forces".

Justice Gokhale said that the shootout that had been referred to, witnessed a colonel and a jawan falling to the bullets of terrorists.

Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman told the court that even Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh was hit in the back and he had to be hospitalised for nearly two months.

"He was seriously injured in the ambush," Vahanvati told the court.

As court described the incident as "unfortunate", Jaiswal said that "unfortunate does not absolve him".

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