The story so far: The Padma awards were announced on January 25, and former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee refused the award. His refusal brought to the fore the question under what circumstances a recipient can decline the award. The awards are always announced a day before the Republic Day celebrations. The awards are given away by the President at ceremonial functions held at Rashtrapati Bhavan usually in the months of March-April every year. The functions for the 2020 and 2021 awardees were held together last November because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year the President approved the conferment of 128 Padma Awards.
What are the Padma awards?
After Bharat Ratna, Padma awards are the second highest civilian awards in the country and are given in three categories. It recognises achievements in public service in the field of art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sport and civil services, among others. The awards, initially known as Padma Vibhushan and then categorised as Pahela Varg, Dusra Varg and Tisra Varg, were first constituted in 1954. They were later renamed as Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri in 1955. The Padma Vibhushan is given for exceptional and distinguished service, while the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri are for distinguished service of a high order and distinguished service respectively.
Who decides the awards?
The awards are conferred on the recommendations made by the Padma Awards Committee constituted by the Prime Minister every year. It is headed by the Cabinet Secretary and includes the Union Home Secretary, the Secretary to the President and four to six eminent persons as members. However, the names of the eminent members of the committee are not revealed. Even the names nominated and shortlisted by the committee are revealed after the awards have been announced. Even self-nomination can be made to the committee. The recommendations of the committee are submitted to the Prime Minister and the final list is signed by the President before it is notified in the Gazette of India.
Can a recipient decline the award?
The rules are silent on this. The convention is that the Home Secretary calls up each awardee and informs them of the civilian honour on January 25. The individual has the option of declining the award then, following which the name is removed from the list before it is sent to the President for approval.
For example, eminent artistes, percussionist Pandit Anindya Chatterjee and vocalist Sandhya Mukhopadhyay turned down the awards when they received the call this year and their names were not inserted in the final list. In the case of Mr. Bhattacharjee, the call was received by his wife as he is ailing. A Home Ministry official said she was informed of the conferment of the Padma Bhushan on the former West Bengal Chief Minister. “If he had to decline the award, they could have called back and said so, the name would have been removed,” said the official. The official said there is no such rule to refuse the award once it has been announced. “I know nothing about this award. No one has told me anything about it. If they have decided to offer the Padma Bhushan to me, I refuse to accept it,” said a statement issued by Mr. Bhattacharjee on January 25 after the awards were announced in the evening.
Is there a precedent?
In 1992, former general secretary of the CPI(M) E.M.S. Namboodiripad had declined the award. The party said in a statement last week, “The CPI(M) policy has been consistent in declining such awards from the state. Our work is for the people, not for awards.” P.N. Haksar, principal secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was offered the Padma Vibhushan days after he retired in January 1973. He wrote to the then Home Secretary Govind Narain, “I have a difficulty in accepting the award. All these years, I have often said to myself that one should work so that one can live with oneself without regret.” Swami Ranganathananda of the Ramakrishna Mission refused the award in 2000 as it was given to him as an individual and not to the Ramakrishna Mission. Historian Romila Thapar has declined the award twice.
What does the award entail?
At the ceremonial function held at the President’s House in Delhi, the recipients are presented a ‘Sanad’ (certificate) signed by the President and a medallion. A small replica of the medallion is also given to them which can be worn during any ceremonial or State function. The award does not amount to a title and cannot be used as a suffix or prefix to the awardees’ name.