A quick look ahead at the action in the Supreme Court this morning. The fighters... their cornermen... and the possible outcomes today
By Ajai Shukla
Vijay Kumar Singh vs Union of India: Writ petition No. 126/2012
Filed by the army chief, General VK Singh, the writ petitions that his date of birth be recognised as 10th May 1951, in consonance with the records of the army’s Adjutant General’s Branch. The defence ministry maintains that his birth date is 10th May 1950, which another army branch, the Military Secretary’s Branch, maintained for 36 years. The defence minister has rejected Gen Singh’s petition, making him liable to retire on 31st May 2012. If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the chief, he will be eligible to serve till 31st March 2013, another 10 months.
Supreme Court two-judge bench: Justice RM Lodha and Justice HL Gokhale in Court Room No.8
Gen VK Singh: Uday Lalit and Puneet Bali. Ram Jethmalani has expressed interest in assisting General VK Singh pro bono (i.e. without renumeration), and he has received three detailed briefings last week from the chief's legal advisors. He is likely to be in the chief's corner today
Union of India: Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati; and Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman
On the court’s agenda
The judges would have already gone through the writ petition, filed on 16th Jan 12. Today they will hear arguments from both sides, and then rule on whether to admit the petition.
The writ is based entirely on documents and asks the court to “call for the record”, i.e. order the government to produce documents from which verification can be done.
Possible outcomes in court
Outcome 1: The bench dismisses the petition, which is the worst outcome for the army chief. While the government’s legal team would press hard for this, the chief’s lawyers believe that the writ is compelling.
Outcome 2: The bench refers the petition to the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), the apex court for military litigation. This would be the government’s second option, if it cannot get the writ dismissed outright.
Gen VK Singh’s legal team will counter that the AFT has a conflict of interest, since the chief heads the AFT and the MoD appoints the judges. If the bench insists on referral to the AFT, the chief’s legal team will plead for a fast-track AFT judgement.
Outcome 3: The bench rules that a fresh petition be filed in the Delhi High Court. This outcome would be unfavourable to the chief since, based on the current position, he will retire on 31st May 2012.
Outcome 4: The bench admits the petition and issues Notice to the Union of India to file a reply to the writ. The government, keeping in mind the chief’s 31st May retirement, would seek more time to reply. The chief’s legal team will argue for no more than two weeks. If the court accepts that, a verdict is possible in 4-6 weeks.
Outcome 5: The bench admits the petition, but allows the government a prolonged period to file its reply. In that case, the chief would retire on 31st May and continue the case as a civilian. If he wins before 30th March 2013, the government would face the tricky issue of reinstating him as army chief.
Outcome 6: The two-judge bench may not agree on how to deal with the writ petition. In the case of a dissenting opinion, a third judge would be appointed, whose opinion would decide the disposal of the writ.
Outcome 7: The two-judge bench could opine that the writ raises an important point of law, or public issue, and refers it to a larger bench, e.g. a Constitution Bench. In that case, Gen Singh may retire before a verdict.