Just back from the Supreme Court. In 40 minutes of riveting legal drama in a courtroom packed to the rafters, Mr Justice Lodha and Mr Justice Gokhale demonstrated why India's higher judiciary is such a powerful force in this country.
Unmoved by a forceful performance from the government's legal stars --- Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati and Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman, who argued in tandem --- the Court has given the Defence Ministry a week to let the Supreme Court know whether the MoD would prefer that Mr Antony's decision on General VK Singh's petition be quashed, and the MoD would consider his statutory complaint afresh... or would the MoD prefer that the Court hears the chief's petition under Article 32 of the Constitution.
The Court made it clear that Antony's decision of 30th December 2011, rejecting the Army Chief's statutory complaint, violated the principles of natural justice. Antony's rejection was based on the Attorney General's legal opinion; that same Attorney General had also provided opinion that informed the MoD's earlier rejection (on July 2011) of the chief's request for his date of birth to be recognised as 1951, not 1950. The court's legal question was: How could the Attorney General provide the legal backstop for Antony's 30th December decision, when it was the same Attorney General's legal opinion that was being questioning in Gen Singh's statutory complaint? There was a clear conflict of interest here, observed the Court.
The Court also opposed the government's argument that the case should go to the Armed Forces Tribunal. When the chief has just four months of service left, the Court asked, why delay? And any appeal against the AFT's decision would come up before the Supreme Court again, the judges observed.
Scoreline at the end of Day 1: Vijay Kumar Singh --- 1; Union of India --- 0