The case of ‘Balaji Raghavan v. UOI (1995)’ is an important and interesting case, It challenged the conferment of Civilian Awards like Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bushans to Indian Citizens as it violates Article 18 which provides abolishment of titles.
A Brief Background of Civilian Awards
A policy of instituting National Awards and Honours had been adopted even before the Constitution of India was formally drafted. On February 13, 1948, the Prime Minister’s Committee on Honours and Awards was set up under the Chairmanship of the Constitutional Adviser to the Government of India, Sir B.N. Rau.
Its purpose was to recommend the number and nature of civil and military awards; the machinery for making recommendations for the granting of these awards; the frequency with which they were to be awarded, etc.
The Committee worked on the premise that orders and decorations, carrying no title, were not meant to be prohibited. It submitted its report on March 9, 1948 and gave extensive suggestions in respect of each of the subjects upon which it had been required to give its recommendations. Thereafter, in a series of meetings held between May, 30, 1948 and October 29, 1953, the Cabinet had occasion to discuss the nature and conditions of the proposed National Awards.
The National Awards were formally instituted in January, 1954 by two Presidential Notifications No.1- Pres./54 and No.2-Pres./54 dated January 2, 1954 which were subsequently superseded by four fresh Notifications, viz., No.1-Pres./55, 2-Pres./55, 3-Pres./55 and 4-Pres./55 dated January 8, 1955.
Categories of Civilian Awards
The purpose for which these awards were to be given are as follows:-
NAME OF THE AWARD PURPOSE FOR WHICH IT IS GIVEN —————–
- Bharat Ratna- For exceptional Service towards the advancement of art, literature & science & in recognition of public service of the highest order.
- Padma Vibhushan- For exceptional and distinguished service in any field including service rendered by Govt. servants.
- Padma Bhushan- For distinguished service of a high order in any field including the service rendered by Govt. servants.
- Padma Shri For distinguished service in any field including service rendered by Govt. servants.
The aforementioned Presidential Notifications also provide that any person, without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex, shall be eligible for these awards and also that the decorations may be awarded posthumously.
No use of Civilian Awards as Titles
A press Note was issued by the Government of India on April 17, 1968 making it clear that the practice of using Civilian Awards, such as, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri, as titles on letterheads, invitation cards, posters, books, etc., is against the scheme of the Government as the awards are not titles and their use along with the names of individuals is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution which has abolished titles.
It was also emphasised in the press note that civilian awards should not be attached as suffixes or prefixes to the names of the awardees to give them the appearance of titles.
The Conferment of Decoration on Persons (Abolition) Bill, 1969
In the year 1969 and again in the year 1970, the late Acharya J.B. Kripalani, who was then a Member of the Lok Sabha, moved a non-official Bill entitled ‘The Conferment of Decoration on Persons (Abolition) Bill, 1969’ for their abolition.
In the draft statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Bill, the main points were thus stated:-
a) Although Article 18 had abolished titles, they were sought to be brought in by the back door in the form of decorations.
b) The decorations were not always awarded according to merit, and the Government of the day is not the best Judge of the merits or the eminence of the recipient.
c) These “new titles” were at first given to very few, exceptional persons; this small stream had since become quite a flood.
The Bill led to an elaborate debate in Parliament but was ultimately defeated.
When National Awards were cancelled
On August 8, 1977, the institution of the National Awards was cancelled, vide Notification No.65-Pres/77.
On January 25, 1980 the Government revived these awards by Notification No.25-Pres./80 which cancelled the earlier Notification No.65-Pres./77 dated August 8, 1997. Since then, the National Awards have been conferred annually on the Republic Day.
What is Article 18?
Article 18 of the Constitution which reads as follows:
“18. Abolition of titles. –
(1) No title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State.
(2) No citizen of India shall accept any title from any foreign State.
(3) No person who is not a citizen of India shall, while he holds any office of profit or trust under the State, accept without the consent of the President any title from any foreign State.
(4) No person holding any office of profit under the State shall, without the consent of the President, accept any present, emolument, or office of any kind from or under any foreign State.”
Analysis of the court
The court while considering the issue at present took notice of constituent assembly debate on Article 18 and the provisions of foreign constitutions on Titles and Awards. The court further analysed the issue as follows-
- The framers of the Constitution sought to put an end to the practice followed by the British in respect of conferment of titles. They, therefore, prohibited titles of nobility and all other titles that carry suffixes or prefixes as they result in the creation of a distinct unequal class of citizens.
- However, the framers did not intend that the State should not officially recognise merit or work of an extraordinary nature. They, however, mandated that the honours conferred by the State should not be used as suffixes or prefixes, i.e., as titles, by the recipients.
- Awards of this nature are conferred by many countries around the world. Even countries such as the United States of America, whose Constitutions specifically bar the conferment of titles of nobility, follow the practice of regularly conferring civil awards.
In the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, instituted in 1957, honours Americans and others who make exceptional contributions to national security or interest, world peace, culture and so forth.
In France, the Palmes Academiques is awarded for merit in teaching and for literature, science and other cultural activities. There are also other awards for social merit, public health, tourism, craftsmanship, postal merit, etc.
The Canadian Government established the Order of Canada in 1967 and it is awarded for a wide variety of fields including agriculture, ballet, medicine, philanthropy, etc.
The Order of Merit which is said to be the inspiration behind the National Awards, was instituted in 1902, and is awarded for outstanding service by British Scientists, writers, or other distinguished civilians.
- The National Awards are not violative of the principles of equality as guaranteed by the provisions of the Constitution. The theory of equality does not mandate that merit should not be recognized. Article 51A of the Constitution speaks of the fundamental duties of every citizen of India.
In this context, we may refer to the various clauses of Article 51A and specifically clause (j) which exhorts every citizen “to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity, so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement.”
It is, therefore, necessary that there should be a system of awards and decorations to recognise excellence in the performance of these duties.
- Hereditary titles of nobility conflict with the principle of equality insofar as they create a separate, identifiable class of people who are distinct from the rest of society and have access to special privileges. Titles that are not hereditary but carry suffixes or prefixes have the same effect, though the degree may be lesser. While other Constitutions also prohibit the conferment of titles of nobility, ours may perhaps be unique in requiring that awards conferred by the State are not to be used as suffixes or prefixes.
- This difference is borne out of the peculiar problems that these titles had created in pre-independent India and the earnest desire of the framers to prevent the repetition these circumstances in Free, Independent India.
- The National Awards do not amount to “titles” within the meaning of Article 18(1) and they should not be used as suffixes or prefixes. If this is done, the defaulter should forfeit the National Award conferred on him or her by following the procedure laid down in Regulation 10 of each of the four notifications creating these National Awards.
Balaji Raghavan v. UOI (1995)