3:13 pm - Friday December 17, 2010

Let the next government decide the new Army Chief, say EC sources

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New Delhi: After the Election Commission said it was undecided on the appoinment of the next Army Chief, a Bharatiya Janata Party delegation is meeting the Chief Election Commissioner on the issue on Saturday. EC sources said that the present government should leave the appointment of Army Chief to the next government.

The government had approached the poll panel earlier this week for a go-ahead on the appointment. Current Army Chief General Bikram Singh is due to retire on July 31 and by convention, the successor is announced two months ahead of retirement. Army Vice Chief Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh Suhag was a frontrunner for the post but the BJP had opposed his appointment.

The BJP also questioned the government’s hurry in naming the new chief, but the Congress said it can’t leave the decision pending because it concerns national security. Congress leader Rashid Alvi said, “The appointment of Army Chief is important as it is related to the national security. We have to see the Election Commission’s decision but I feel that there should be no delay in this.”

BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, “Nobody has an objection on routine appointments. But what is the point of hurrying? The Congress is making such decisions in a week, when they are on their way out.”

Ealier, The Election Commission said that it will consider the issue of the appointment of the next Army chief at a meeting of its top brass next week. “We have received a reference from the Defence Ministry and the issue is under examination. But no decision has been taken so far. The matter has so far not been placed on the agenda of the ‘full commission’ (the Chief Election Commissioner and the two Election Commissioners),” a senior EC official said.

“The meeting could take place on Monday or Tuesday where the matter would be considered,” the official said.

The poll panel will consider the matter in the light of its March 27 order that appointments, promotions, tenders and procurements of defence forces are not covered under the Model Code of Conduct in the ongoing elections as well as any other election in the future as well as complaints from the BJP that the government was rushing with the appointment of the next Chief of Army Staff.

Amid strong opposition by the BJP to the appointment of the next Army chief, the government had referred the matter to the Election Commission saying any decision will be taken only after getting its nod. “The matter is before the Election Commission. We want to strictly follow all the procedures before taking any final decision on the issue,” Defence Minister AK Antony had said on Friday when asked about the status of appointing the next Army chief.

The matter was sent to the EC by the Defence Ministry earlier this week though the poll panel has already said that appointments, promotions, tenders and procurements are not covered under the Model Code of Conduct in the ongoing elections as well as any other election in the future.

On why the Ministry has sent the matter to the Election Commission despite its March 27 order, highly-placed Defence Ministry sources said such matters are important and it was felt that nod of all authorities concerned should be taken before proceeding.

The BJP has been opposing the appointment of the next Army chief by the UPA government, arguing that there was no hurry to do so and the matter should be left to the next government.

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