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.”
The Constituent Assembly Debate
On January 21, 1947, three such Committees were constituted by the Assembly, one of them being the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities and Tribals and Excluded Areas (hereinafter called “The Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights”).
Thereafter, the Assembly met at regular intervals to discuss the reports submitted by the various Committees.
On August 29, 1947, the Assembly appointed a Drafting Committee which was to analyse the reports of these Committees, take note of the discussions in the Assembly regarding them, and prepare the text of a Draft Constitution.
This Draft Constitution came to be prepared during February 1948 and on November 15, 1948, the clause-by-clause discussion of the Draft Constitution began in the Assembly.
This process culminated on November 26, 1949 when the Constitution as settled by the Constituent Assembly was adopted by it.
The provision that is now Article 18 (1) was discussed and formulated in the report of the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights. This Committee had, in view of its wide agenda, appointed two Sub-Committees, one on Fundamental Rights and the other on Minorities.
The former Sub-Committee was chaired by Acharya J.B. Kripalani. On March 25, 1947, the present Article 18(1) was discussed for the first time in the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights.
The agenda for the meeting was the discussion of the note prepared by Mr. K.T. Shah on Fundamental Rights which contained five clauses relating to the prohibition of, and restrictions on, the conferment and acceptance of titles, honours, distinctions and privileges.
Clause 3 of this note read: – “No artificial or man-made distinction between citizens and citizens, by way of titles, honours, privileges – whether personal or inheritable, – shall be recognised by and enforceable under this Constitution, or laws made thereunder:
Provided that academic degrees, official titles, or popular honorifics, whether of Indian or foreign origin, or conferment, may be permitted in so far as they create no privileged class or heritable distinction.”
At the meeting, Mr. K.T. Shah formally proposed the abolition of titles and the privileged class of title holders. In the final report of the Sub-Committee, the relevant part of Clause 8 read as follows:
“No titles except those denoting an office or a profession shall be conferred by the Union.”
This clause was considered by the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights on April 21, 1947. A number of influential members expressed reservations about the abolition of titles.
Mr. C. Rajagopalachari suggested that it should be left open to the legislature to decide from time to time whether titles are good or bad. He stated that, especially if there was a nationalist, communist or socialist policy, and the profit motive was removed, there would be a great necessity for creating a new motive in the form of titles.
Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy Aiyar and Mr. M. Ruthnaswamy also supported the omission of this clause. The latter stated that equality is not opposed to distinction and even in a democracy, it must be provided.
Mr. K.T. Shah, however, urged that the conferring of titles offended against the fundamental principle of equality sought to be enshrined in the Constitution.
Mr. K.M. Panikkar, while suggesting a half-way solution stated:-
“Orders and decorations are not prohibited. The heritable titles by the Union undoubtedly create inequality. In the Soviet Union many encouragements are given on account of certain national policies. What I am submitting is that we must make a clear distinction between titles which are heritable and thereby create inequality and titles given by governments for the purpose of rewarding merit or by recognising merit.
There are two methods that exist. As you know one is by title and the other by decoration. What we have to aim at is really the question of heritable titles and we should see that provision is made for decorations and various other things because it is only titles that have been prohibited, not decorations and honours.”
Pressed to a vote, the suggestion that the clause should be omitted was lost by 14 votes to 10; but Mr. Panikkar proposal that only heritable titles should be forbidden was accepted by Mr. Shah and was unanimously adopted by the Committee.
The relevant part of Clause 7 of the Committee’s Interim Report to the Constituent Assembly read:
“No heritable title shall be conferred by the Union.”
On April 30, 1947, this clause was discussed in the Constituent Assembly. While moving the clause, Mr. Vallabhbhai Patel observed that titles were often being abused for corrupting the public life of the country and, therefore, it was better that their abolition should be provided as a fundamental right. He informed the Assembly that it had been decided to drop the word ‘heritable’ as it had become a matter of controversy.
While moving the amendment, Mr. M.R. Masani stated:
“This will mean that the free Indian State will not confer any titles of any kind, whether heritable or otherwise, that is, for the life of the incumbent. It may be possible for the Union to honour some of its citizens who distinguish themselves in several walks of life like science and the arts, with other kinds of honours not amounting to titles; but the idea of a man putting something before or after his name as a reward for service rendered will not be possible in a free India.”
While supporting the amendment, Sri Prakasa stated: “Sir, I should like to make it plain that this clause does not prohibit even the State from bestowing a proper honour. We are distinguishing between titles and honours. A title is something that hangs to one’s name. I understand it is a British innovation. Other States also honour their citizens for good work but those citizens do not necessarily hang their titles to their names as people in Britain or British-governed parts of the world do. That is all that this clause seeks to do …………………… we want to abolish this corroding, corrupting practice which makes individuals go about currying favour with authority to get particular distinctions.”
While opposing the amendment, Seth Govind Das and Mr. H.V. Kamath complained that the clause covered only the future conferment of titles and that it was necessary also to abolish titles conferred earlier by the “alien imperialist Government”.
Mr. Vallabhbhai Patel in replying to the debate referred to the point raised by Seth Govind Das and Mr. Kamath. Pleading for forgetting “all about past titles”, he said that the Assembly was really legislating for the future and not for the past; some people who had obtained titles from the British Government after they had “spent so much” and “worked so hard” for them, should be left alone; disturbing their titles might be “interpreted as a sign of spiteful feeling”.
After the acceptance of the amendment moved by Mr. M.R. Masani the relevant part of the clause read as follows:
“No title shall be conferred by the Union.”
With a minor modification, the provision appeared as Article 12(1) in the Draft Constitution prepared by the Drafting Committee: –
“Article 12(1) – No title shall be conferred by the State.”
The Drafting Committee and its Special Committee, after considering the various comments, suggestions and amendments received on draft article 12, suggested further amendments. The Constitutional Advisor, Sir B.N. Rau, supported these new amendments and stated:
“Presumably it is not intended that titles such as “Field Marshal”, “Admiral”, “Air Marshal”, “Chief Justice” or “Doctor” indicating an office or profession, should be discontinued. It may be pointed out that the term “State” as defined includes “all local or other authorities within the territory of India”. Nor, presumably, is it intended to prohibit the award of medals or decorations for gallantry, humanitarian work, etc. not carrying any title.”
The Drafting Committee redrafted Article 12(1) to read:
“Hereditary titles or other privileges of birth shall not be conferred by the State.”
It is important to note that when, on November 30, 1948, draft article 12 came up for final discussion before the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Ambedkar did not move the amendment for redrafting clause (1) of Draft Article 12 which had earlier been accepted by the Drafting Committee.
The Draft article, as presented to the Assembly, read as it was framed originally by the Drafting Committee:-
“1) No title shall be conferred by the State.”
Mr. T.T. Krishnamachari sought to add the words “not being a military or academic distinction” after the word title in clause (1). He felt that this was necessary, firstly, because certain types of titles had to be permitted, the Government having, for example, already decided to confer certain military distinctions; secondly, because the State might decide to revive academic titles like Mahamahopadhyaya, and lastly, because a university might not be completely divorced from a State in view of the definition of the latter in draft article 7. (Article 12 of the Constitution).
The amendment moved by Mr.T.T. Krishnamachari was accepted by the Constituent Assembly on December 1, 1948 and the final clause [later renumbered by the Drafting Committee as Article 18(1)] read as it does today.
We may also refer to the views expressed by Sir B.N. Rau. As already stated, he was appointed the Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Committee on Awards and Honours which was appointed as early as in 1948. At the very first meeting of the Committee, one of the members raised the issue of the validity of the proposed awards, in view of Article 12 of the Draft Constitution which sought to abolish titles.
Sir B.N. Rau, who had, in his capacity as Member of the Drafting Committee contributed to the discussion regarding Draft Article 12, pointed out that ‘titles’ did not necessarily include all orders and distinctions. He referred to the U.S. Constitution which forbids the grant of titles of nobility but allows decorations such as the Congressional Medal of Honour and the Distinguished Service Cross.
He stated that in Constitutions where orders and decorations as well as titles are intended to be prohibited, separate mention is usually made, as had been done in Article 73 and Article 109 of the Danzig and Weimar Constitutions respectively.
Balaji Raghavan v. UOI (1995)