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Indian Awards System, like Padma Award and Bharat Ratna Award. Discuss

"The Man( Kailash Satyarthy), who becomes a national ICON for India is yet to receive any National awards - like Padma Shree, Padma Bhushan or Padma Vibhushan, while even actor Saif Ali Khan(several criminal cases pending against him) has been awarded a Padma Shree by the Government of India. You can imagine how flawed the awarding system is"

The Bharat Ratna: 'Bharat Ratna', the highest civilian Award of the country, was instituted in the year 1954. Any person without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex is eligible for these awards. It is awarded in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavor. The recommendations for Bharat Ratna are made by the Prime Minister to the President. No formal recommendations for this are necessary. The number of annual awards is restricted to a maximum of three in a particular year. On conferment of the award, the recipient receives a Sanad (certificate) signed by the President and a medallion. The Award does not carry any monetary grant in early years of the award, it was conferred on living recipients. In recent decades that policy was changed and people have been given the award posthumously.

Padma awards: Padma Awards were instituted in the year 1954. Except for brief interruption(s) during the years 1977, 1980, 1993 to 1997, these awards have been announced every year on Republic day. The award is given in three categories, namely Padma Shri or Fourth degree honour (distinguished service), Padma Bhushan or third degree honor (distinguished service of a high order), and Padma Vibhushan or Second degree honor (exceptional and distinguished service).

The award seeks to recognize work of any distinction and is given for distinguished and exceptional achievements/service in all fields of activities/disciplines, such as Art, Literature and Education, Sports, Medicine, Social Work, Science and Engineering, Public Affairs, Civil Service, Trade and Industry etc. All persons without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex are eligible for these awards.

The award is normally not conferred posthumously. However, in highly deserving cases, the Government could consider giving an award posthumously if the demise of the person proposed to be honored has been recent, say within a period of one year preceding the Republic Day on which it is proposed to announce the award.

A higher category of Padma award can be conferred on a person only where a period of at least five years has elapsed since conferment of the earlier Padma award. However, in highly deserving cases, a relaxation can be made by the Awards Committee.

Criticism:
A look at some of the awardees is enough to convince one of the biases that plagues the system and hence devalues the awards. In 2010, Sant Singh Chatwal, the Indian-born US hotelier with dodgy financial dealings (and convicted in the US last year for indulging in fraudulent campaign funding practices) was given a Padma Bhushan. Former Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh honoured their knee and heart surgeons, respectively, with a Padma Bhushan. The Bharat Ratnas too have often been controversial. Rajiv Gandhi awarded one posthumously to M.G. Ramachandran to curry favour with the Tamils; Indira Gandhi was given one while in office; the late educationist and Hindu Mahasabha leader Madan Mohan Malaviya was a surprising choice for the award this year; and though Sachin Tendulkar's contribution to cricket can hardly be overestimated, when he was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 2014, many felt that if a sportsperson were to be honoured thus, India's hockey legend Dhyan Chand should have got it first.

A few of the conferment's have been criticized for honoring personalities only after they received global recognition. The award for Mother Teresa was announced in 1980, a year after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Satyajit Ray received an Academy Honorary Award in 1992 followed by the Bharat Ratna the same year. In 1999, Amartya Sen was awarded the Bharat Ratna, a year after his 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The award was proposed by President K. R. Narayanan to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who agreed to the proposal.

Popular demands: Though, as per the statutes for the Bharat Ratna, the recommendations for the award can only be made by the Prime Minister to the President, there have been several demands from various political parties to honour their leaders. In January 2008, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L. K. Advani wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recommending Singh's predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the award. This was immediately followed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) lobbying for their leader, Jyoti Basu, former Chief Minister of West Bengal. Basu, India's longest-serving Chief Minister, said that he would decline the honour, even if awarded. Similar such demands include the Telugu Desam Party leader N. Chandrababu Naidu for N. T. Rama Rao, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati for Kanshi Ram and the Shiromani Akali Dal for Parkash Singh Badal.

As per the original statutes, sportspersons were not eligible for the Bharat Ratna; however a revision of the rules in December 2011 made eligible "any field of human endeavor". Subsequently, several sportspersons' names were discussed; among the most talked-about of these was field-hockey player Dhyan Chand, who was recommended multiple times for the posthumous honour. In 2011, 82 members of parliament recommended Chand's name for the award to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). In January 2012, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports forwarded his name again, this time along with 2008 Summer Olympics gold medalist shooter Abhinav Bindra and mountaineer Tenzing Norgay. Bindra had also been recommended for the award in May 2013 by the National Rifle Association of India. In July 2013, the ministry again recommended Dhyan Chand. However, in November 2013, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar became the first sports-person to receive the honour. The decision to honour Tendulkar before Chand gathered much criticism for the government.

The eminent jurist and former Chief Justice of India J. S. Verma was awarded the Padma Bhushan posthumously in 2014. His family refused to accept the award as they believed Justice Verma in principle "was never a man to yearn or lobby for any acclaim, reward or favour." Several artists including musicians and writers including S Janaki, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Romila Thapar, Sitara Devi and Phanishwarnath Renu have also refused various Padma awards due to various reasons, including personal pride and what has been described as 'national interest.

Recommendation for reforming the Selection process:

  • The statutory guidelines must be followed they should not be bypassed. According to which, an awards committee had to be formed with five members of the government and five eminent personalities from different fields of public life. Their endorsement should be compulsory.
  • BY cutting down the number of recommendation. There are 1,500-2,000 files placed before the committee for picking 100s names there should be proper time to be given (not within three hours). , to honour in three different categories
  • Transparency should be there. Use of e- polling, details of nominated person should be publicized before polling to bring more transparency.
  • Rules should be clearly listed out.
  • By including the leader of opposition an awards committee
  • By conducting stringent background check on potential awardees.
  • Removing the name permanently for self-lobbying of awards
  • Making one award by abolishing the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan because they dilute the value of the Padma Shri and there should be a rule that a person may be honored only once in a lifetime with any of the three Padma awards.
  • But clearly, much more needs to be done to reform the system. It remains to be seen if this government, which professes to be committed to transparency, brings in some " Swachhata" to the Padma awards and restores their credibility.

Padma Bandaru