New Delhi: The raging legal battle between Indian Army chief Gen VK Singh and the government over his age sets an 'unhealthy precedent', Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju said here on Wednesday.

“It is not a healthy precedent either for the ministry or the armed forces. It is not a matter for public debate and like I said, it's an unhealthy precedent,” Raju said.  Singh, citing birth records, says he was born in 1951 and is 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 retire May 31.

The Army Chief moved the Supreme Court on Monday after the ministry in December rejected his statutory complaint requesting the change of his year of birth in official records to 1951 from 1950. A day later, the defence ministry filed a caveat in the Apex Court, urging it to not pass any order on the general's petition before hearing the government.  The Supreme Court may refer the case to the Armed Forces Tribunal or to a lower court.

The row has pitted the senior-most officer of the 1.13-million-strong army, the world's second largest, against the government, a first in independent India.

Army chief going to SC unfortunate: Centre

Government on Wednesday termed the action of Army chief Gen V K Singh going to the Supreme Court for settlement of his age issue as an "unfortunate development" and "not a healthy precedent".

Describing the matter as sensitive, Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju said, "It is an unfortunate development and it is not a healthy precedent either for the (Defence) Ministry or the armed forces."

He was replying to a question on the sidelines of an NCC function here on whether the government is planning to send the Army Chief on leave or if it is looking at the possibility of appointing a new chief.

Asked if the government is embarrassed with Singh dragging it to the apex court on the date of birth issue, he said, "It is not a matter for public debate. It is an unhealthy precedent. It does not auger well either for the Ministry or the forces."

Singh moved the Supreme Court on Monday challenging the government's rejection of his claim on his date of birth.

The Defence Ministry had recently rejected his contention that he was born in 1951 and not in 1950.

In its recent order, the Ministry has taken his date of birth as May 10, 1950, and not May 10, 1951, which the General has claimed as real as per his matriculation certificate.

(Agencies)