New Delhi: The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) Wednesday cleared the decks for new Navy chief Vice Admiral Karambir Singh to take over Friday, but said his continuation would be subject to the outcome of an application filed by Vice Admiral Bimal Verma, seeking cancellation of the appointment.
Vice Admiral Verma is the senior-most officer in the Indian Navy but has been superseded.
On Wednesday, the government, represented by Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, sought four weeks time to present documents that the court had wanted with regard to the appointment of Vice Admiral Singh.
“To this, I had sought a stay of the appointment but the court was of the view that the Navy cannot be left without a chief,” Verma’s lawyer Ankur Chhibber told ThePrint. “His term as the Navy chief, however, would be subject to the outcome of the hearing that would be on 17 July.”
Vice Admiral Verma had last week filed a fresh petition seeking cancellation of the defence ministry’s order to appoint Vice Admiral Singh as the new chief supersedes him. The ministry had earlier rejected Vice Admiral Verma’s petition challenging the appointment.
Chhibber said a previous petition that had been filed with the AFT was withdrawn last Monday as they had wanted to file a detailed plea on the issue.
Govt ignored seniority
The government had selected the next Navy chief following a “merit-based approach” and did not go with the tradition of appointing the senior-most eligible officer.
Vice Admiral Verma is senior to Vice Admiral Singh and was among the contenders for the top post. The others included the Vice Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral G. Ashok Kumar, Flag Officer Commanding in Chief (FOC-in-C) of Western Naval Command, Vice Admiral Ajit Kumar, and the FOC-in-C of Southern Naval Command, Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla.
Vice Admiral Singh’s elevation was expected as a number of factors had worked against Vice Admiral Verma. For one, Verma was under scrutiny in the 2005 Navy War Room leak case.
He had also been overlooked for two key postings earlier — the chief of the Western and Eastern Naval Command. These postings are considered mandatory for any Navy chief.
Vice Admiral Verma took over command of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), a tri-service command, in 2016 and has remained there since.
The Navy War Room leak scandal
Vice Admiral Verma was the principal director of naval operations when the scandal broke out in 2005. It involved the leak of over 7,000 pages of sensitive defence information from the Naval War Room and the Air Headquarters.
Verma was given a “severe displeasure” note from the then vice chief. According to Navy rules, the displeasure note by the vice chief is not included in the Annual Confidential Report (ACR).
Vice Admiral Verma’s second-in-command, Captain Kashyap Kumar, and two other commanders — V.K. Jha and Vijendra Rana — were dismissed under Article 311 in connection with the case.
Vice Admiral Verma is the brother of former Navy chief Nirmal Kumar Verma, who was at the helm of affairs between 31 August 2009 and 31 August 2012.
It was inaccurately reported that the new Navy chief will take over Thursday. He is expected to do so Friday, 31 May. The error is regretted.