New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a PIL challenging the appointment of Lt Gen Bikram Singh as the next Army Chief but made it clear that its order would not affect any pending proceedings against him in cases including an alleged encounter in Jammu and Kashmir.
   
The court also refused to reopen the age controversy relating to incumbent Army Chief Gen V K Singh when the petitioners raked up the issue, saying it has already been settled by the court.

Before refusing to interfere with the government's decision on the successor to Gen V K Singh, a bench of justices R M Lodha and H L Gokhale sought for a government file on Gen Bikram Singh's appointment and went through it in the post-lunch session.

PIL CHALLENGING BIKRAM SINGH APPOINTMENT

After going through the confidential report, the court said the government had considered various allegations against him before clearing his appointment and opined "there is no justiciable ground" for hearing the PIL challenging his appointment.

"We have carefully gone through the averments made in the petitions. We do not find any justiciable ground to entertain the petition," the bench said while dismissing the PIL filed by a bunch of top retired bureaucrats, including a Naval Chief, challenging his appointment.

"It is made clear that dismissal of the petition shall not affect any legal pending proceedings in court or any other forum," the bench said.

The petitioners, including former Naval Chief Admiral L Ramdas and former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswamy, challenged the appointment by levelling various allegation against him including his role in the fake encounter in J&K in 2001 and his questionable role during a UN peace keeping mission in 2008 in Congo.

The bench, which at the outset refused to hold in-camera proceeding in the case, went through the confidential file regarding the appointment and found that the government had considered these and various other allegations against him but was given clean chit.

"Not only three but as a matter of fact there are many allegations which were collected from various sources. Reasons have been given by the government (in clearing Singh's name)," the court said after going through the file.

Opposing the plea of the petitioners that system was manipulated for making Singh as Army Chief, the government placed the record of entire proceeding which led to clearance of Singh's name as next Army Chief.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati said that matter was considered by various authorities including Prime Minister, Home Minister, Defence Minister and the Intelligence bureau before his name was cleared.

ARGUMENTS


During the arguments, the bench asked the petitioner not to make "bald" allegation and asked for the documentary proof.

"What documents do you have? It amounts to maligning our armed forces without documents. All these bald allegation can put at stake someone's career," the bench remarked when advocate Kamini Jaiswal, appearing for the petitioners, mentioned allegations against the Armed Forces on Congo mission. "It is not desirable to read out," the bench said while restraining Jaiswal.

The petitioners, including veteran journalist Sam Rajapa and social activist M G Devasahayam, alleged that Lt Gen Singh is facing court of inquiry for his to take action against officers who were involved in sexual harassment and rape, when they were posted to Congo in 2008 as part of the UN peace- keeping mission and the case of face encounter is still pending in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.

The government had on March 3 announced the appointment of Lt Gen Bikram Singh as the next Army chief.

Earlier in the day, the apex court, after hearing the case for over one hour, asked the Centre to place before it by 2 pm the file pertaining to the appointment of Lt Gen Singh as the next Army Chief.

The Centre then placed two confidential files before the bench which assembled after lunch break at 2 pm and went through it.

After going through the documents, the bench said that his role in the peace keeping mission was civil in nature and he was not of the Indian contingent which is facing court of inquiry in Meerut.’

"Actually he was not part of the contingent. His job was of civil service under United Nations. Court of inquiry is against Indian Contingent and his job was different," the bench said.

Jaiswal, however, vehemently opposed the Centre's stand and said, "The report has been prepared by the government in order to appoint him as Army Chief."

"He was Deputy Force Commandant of the contingent and his role is also being inquired. This is misleading," she said and referred to the apex court's verdict in P J Thomas case whose appointment as Chief of Centre Vigilance Commission had been set aside.

The bench then went through the file again and agreed that lapses of Commandant in Congo mission is also being inquired.

COURT REFUSES TO INTERFERE IN APPOINTMENT

The court, however, refused to interfere in the appointment but made it clear that its order shall not affect the ongoing inquiry and the pending case in J&K High Court on the alleged fake encounter case in which Singh's role has been questioned.

At the beginning of the proceedings, the bench refused to hold an 'in-camera' proceeding in the case as pleaded by the petitioners, who alleged that it's a sensitive issue, which should not be discussed in the open court.

The bench turned down the petitioners' plea, saying all the allegations levelled in the petition have already become well-known through media reports.

The Centre, represented by its top lawyers, including Attorney General G E Vahanvati and Solicitor General Rohinton F Nariman, vociferously opposed the PIL saying it has been filed with malafide intention and to rake up the age controversy again.

The government objected to the contentions made in the petition on the ground that it has tried to bring communal angle in the case by alleging that Sikh groups tried to lobby for Bikram Singh.

Lt General Singh, currently heading the Army's Eastern Command, is to succeed General V K Singh who demits office on May 31.

The government had on March 3 announced the appointment of Lt Gen Bikram Singh as the next Army chief.

(JPN/Agencies)