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Why National awards were challenged in Supreme Court? 

This article is written by Manmeet Singh

In earlier days the colonies used to confer various types of titles like Maharaja, Bahadur Shah, Rai Sahab but with time these practices were done away with. To honour the pre-eminent work of the individuals and the citizens, in the year 1954 the Government of India instituted national awards which were discontinued in the year 1977 but they were again revived in 1980 by the Indira Gandhi government

National awards of India include Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Bharat Ratna. The constitutional validity of these awards was challenged in the apex court of India for being violative of article 18 of the Indian Constitution. To understand this first we need to understand article 18 of the constitution of India.  

Article 18 -Abolition of Titles 

It comes under fundamental rights which abolishes the practice of giving titles by the Indian state. The  British government was involved in awarding titles based on hereditary which was considered a violation of the principle of equality by the constituent assembly. Article 18 states that the Indian state shall not give any title to anyone except military and academic distinction. This article prohibits Indian citizens from accepting any title from a foreign state

Article 18 also imposes limitations on the citizens and non-citizens from accepting any emoluments, present from any foreign state without the consent of the president if they hold an office of profit or trust under the Indian state. Article 18 further states that any foreigner holding any office of profit or trust under the state can not accept any title from any foreign state without the consent of the president. 

Based on the above, the constitutional validity of the National Awards was challenged in Supreme  Court. However, Supreme Court held the constitutional validity of the national awards. It ruled that these awards do not amount to titles within the meaning of article 18 which prohibits only hereditary titles of nobility. 

Cases related to the issues of the National awards 

The supreme court in Balaji Raghavan versus Union of India and SP Anand versus Union of India and others held that the national awards do not amount to titles and should not be used as a suffix or prefix to the name. If this is done, the defaulter should forfeit or return the award conferred on him by the government. 

The court also upheld that the guidelines for the selection of awardees are extremely wide, imprecise and open to abuse. The court upheld that the most democratic countries of the world have such awards to recognise the achievements of the citizens. Though there are no limitations prescribed for the maximum number of awards that can be granted, the court held that objective criteria must be followed while giving these awards to restore the glory of these awards. 

The court referred to article 51A(j) to justify the system of National Awards to recognise excellence in the performance of the duty mentioned in this article. The Apex Code further went on to say that theory of equality doesn’t mandate that the merits should not be recognised


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