Why Monday’s PIL in Supreme Court is Important

 In the on-going battle of perception about Army Chief Gen VK Singh’s standoff with the establishment, on Monday the spotlight will now once again be on the judiciary.
A PIL filed by former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral L Ramdas and six other eminent citizens, will once again be heard by Justice Lodha and Justice Gokhale—the same bench which had adjudicated in February on Gen VK Singh’s petition over his date of birth.
As we now know, the Supreme Court had side stepped the issue, preferring to arbitrate rather than take a call on what should have been a simple issue of the date of birth, and killed the matter one way or the other.
Their written order failed to give the Government the license to change VK Singh’s date of birth, because of which it cannot issue a legal retirement order for the outgoing Army Chief.
The system is today in a strange bind, unable to issue retirement orders (see this report in Outlook magazine: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?280555) or sack Gen VK Singh for all his sins of commission and omission.
If the executive had acted decisively when it ought to have, matters wouldn’t have come to this pass.
Now the Centre has been forced to file a caveat asking the Court to hear its stand.
Why did the issue reach a stage where the executive will be forced to explain in open court its decision on an important matter such as appointment of the Chief of the Army Staff?
Why were the petitioners—some of whom have held Constitutional positions– prompted to question the decision-making process?
Are they batting for Gen VK Singh, as some of us like to believe? Or are they looking at a larger issue by pointing out that this affects the integrity of the office of the Prime Minister as well as the Defence Minister of the country?
By being indecisive in the past, hasn’t the executive allowed the judiciary to now meddle in what should have been its exclusive domain of decision-making?
Such a development is not fair either to the incoming COAS or to future decision-makers when each of their decisions may be challenged in a court of law.
Will-nilly, the ball is now once again in the judiciary’s court.
Will it duck the issue? Or will it give a decisive verdict either way?
Beyond a point it is no longer about either VK Singh or Bikram Singh, but about the system whose basic decision-making ability has to be above board.
A fair hearing, whatever its outcome, then must put the issue to rest once and for all.
In the interest of the country, in the interest of our own future, we must then respect that verdict no matter what.