This article is written by Meera Patel from Maharaja Sayajirao University, School of Law, Vadodara. This article provides an insight into the history and importance of the Padma awards.


The very famous Padma awards are known to be the most respected and highest civilian awards in India. Every year during the special ritualistic ceremony held at the historic Rashtrapati Bhawan, the Hon’ble President of India announces the names of the recipients receiving these awards. These awards are presented to the recipients on the guidance of the ‘Padma Awards Committee’ that must be constituted by the Hon’ Prime Minister Of India every year.

For the current year, Shree Ram Nath Kovind, the Hon’ble President of India has agreed to bestow the Padma awards to 141 recipients which also incorporates 4 duo cases. The duo cases are special cases, where 2 people receive the award but that award is considered to be one award only. 

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History and relevance of Padma awards

The word ‘Padma’ means a ‘lotus’ in Sanskrit language and ‘Shri’ means Mr. or Ms. Two Civilian awards were set in motion by the Government of Indian on 2nd January, 1954 which are widely known as the Bharat Ratna award (the highest honorary Civilian Award) and the Padma awards (second highest honorary award). The office of the secretary of the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, issued a public notice to announce the creation of the above-mentioned awards. The Padma awards were classified under three positions which were named as the:

  1. Pehla Varg
  2. Dusra Varg 
  3. Tisra Varg

The names were changed in 1955 along with several statutes that were established in 1954. One such statute stated that no Padma awards could be awarded posthumously (after the death) but in 1955, the statute was amended to the allowance of awarding the awards posthumously. 

Categories and differences between the Padma awards

Later on, in the year 1980, another public notification was issued to announce that the Padma Awards were re-named. The new names of the Padma Awards were Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri. These awards were handed out to deserving recipients regardless of their gender, caste, race, occupation, post or position. This award was not meant only for the civilians but also for the government servants. The government employees who provide their services for any state-owned enterprises cannot be nominated for this category of awards but a special exception has been made for the doctors and scientists that work under a public sector enterprise. 

The only factor that differentiates these three awards is that the: 

  1. Padma Vibhushan is handed out to the people who portray extraordinary and distinctive services.
  2. Padma Bhushan is handed out to the people who have given distinctive services in a higher order.
  3. Padma Shri is handed out to the people who have given their distinctive services in their particular field of expertise.

Highlights of the Padma awards

  • Unlike most of the honorary awards, the Padma Awards do not inculcate cash prices, any kinds of benefits, or any allowances for air/ rail transportations. 
  • The Supreme Court Judgment of 1955 distinctly states that any recipient of the Padma Awards cannot have a title. The honorees will not be allowed to use the awards or the initials of the awards as suffixes, prefixes, pre-nominals, or post-nominals as attachments to their names. This rule also includes any such use of the Padma Awards’ name on letterheads, letters, posters, books, etc. the punishment for this rule is modified  to forfeit the award completely.
  • National Awards such as Bharat Ratna and the Padma Awards do not amount to Titles as it falls within the boundaries of Article 18(1) of the Indian Constitution.
  • Article 18(1) of the Indian Constitution states that no titles shall be entertained by the state. The abolition of titles includes military as well as academic distinction. Other than that, no citizen of India is allowed to accept any titles from a foreign state.
  • The award consists of a certificate, also known as a Sanad, which is issued under the seal of the President and a medallion along with the Sanad. A replica of the medallion is handed to the recipients as they can use the replica during state functions or ceremonies.
  • A brochure is also released on the day of the investiture ceremony which acts as a guide book for the function attendees as it briefs them about the award winners.
  • The award winner must have an element of community service for them to be nominated for the award as mere excellence is not a characteristic of the Padma Awards.
  • In totality, not more than 120 Padma Awards should be handed out per year. The Padma Awards for the foreigners and posthumous awards aren’t counted under the 120 awards.
  • All the names of the awardees are usually published in the Gazette of India.

List of the fields

The awards recognize and address exceptional and distinctive work, achievements and services in the below-listed fields of activities and disciplines.

Social work

This field includes charitable services, the contribution for the greater good of the community, society’s betterment services, etc.

Public affairs

This field includes law, politics, public policies, etc.


This field includes painting, sketching, dancing, photography, singing, music, cinematography, etc.


This field inculcates engineering, space engineering, research and development in the field of science and technology, etc.


This field includes medical research, specialization in homeopathy, allopathy, naturopathy, and Ayurveda, etc.

Trade and industries

This field includes economics, banking, tourism, business, management, etc.


This field includes teaching, composing of books, poetry, writing, education reforms, journalism, etc.


This field inculcates achievers of sports, athletics, yoga, etc.

Civil services

This field includes merit in government administration, etc.

Other fields

Fields that are not as famous but are included under the Padma Awards are the proliferation of the Indian culture, protection of human rights, animal rights, conservation of resources, etc. 

Who decides the nominations

As mentioned above, all the nominations for the Padma awards are given by the Padma Awards committee, constituted by the Prime Minister of India and headed by the Cabinet Secretary. The committee includes the Home Secretary, the secretary of the President and a few other prominent people. 

Until April 2015, the ritual of recommending names for the Padma awards was given by the ministers of the government. However, after 2015, the government declared that the recommendation of the nominations for the Padma awards can be given by any Indian citizen and this is an online process. With making the nomination process online, the government also allowed self-nomination for the awards. This amendment was made to inculcate more indulgence of the community towards the contribution of the growth of our country. The role of the government is being minimized with every new change.

There are no particular standards or norms which can lead to the withdrawal of the Padma awards but the President of India has the power to cancel, annul or forfeit the award of any award holder if the rules and regulations mentioned in the statute of the Padma awards are not followed post receiving the awards.

Refusal and controversies

  • The once prestigious Padma awards have lost its glory and luster which it so proudly used to carry before. The Padma awards got its feet dirty as soon as it entered the era of undue influence and absurd arbitrariness. Many have noticed the patterns which show that over the years, various well-respected award recipients have turned down or returned the Padma awards to either portray their disagreement with the decisions of the government or to prove a point that is against any actions taken by the government. 
  • These controversial actions state that the recipients are disagreeing with the government by turning down the ‘government-affiliated’ awards.
  • There are people in our country who haven’t received their highly deserved honor but at the same time, there are many people who have received this honor. This is one of the primary reasons why these Awards have become so controversial in our country.
  • The opaque selection system for these awards is an issue on its own. Almost all the criticism that the award winners face is because of the unclear selection criteria as this robs the deserving candidates as well as the civilians any fair selection chances they have.
  • The critiques of the system pointed out that the lack of regality of the Padma awards along with devaluing it in the past century was present in the various stories that have been passed around in the community which proves that nepotism is being practiced in the selection committee. It has been alleged that the system is rotting day by day and the value of the selection procedure is nothing but superficial and callous.

Legal issues against the Padma awards

Padma awards were set on the ground in the year 1954 and have been handed out every year to various recipients except for the years 1978, 1979, 1993, and 1997. 

The prime reason behind the awards not being handed out in these particular years was that the Janata Government wanted to respect Article 18(1) of the Indian Constitution about the titles and awards. Many cases were fought in the court against the Union of India. 

Many cases were fought in the court against the Union of India where various petitioners  demanded the abolition of the Padma awards as they thought too much dirty politics was involved and it did the idea of awarding the Padma awards was nothing but a showcase of how nepotism works in the government.

The government suspended the practice of granting the Padma awards for two years out of which one suspension happened under the presidency of our hon’ble Ex-Prime Minister of India, Morarji Desai in the year 1977. It was termed as ‘valueless and politicized’. The abolition was later rescinded in the year 1980, when Indira Gandhi took the oath as the Prime Minister of India. 

The Civilian awards were again suspended during mid-1992 when 2 PILs were filed in the High Courts of India. One of which was Balaji Raghavan/S.P. Anand v. Union of India which was filed in Kerala in February and the other case was filed in Madhya Pradesh by the petitioner Satya Pal Anand in August.

Both the petitioners questioned the authenticity of the Padma awards as they were interpreted to be ‘titles’ which defied Article 18(1) of the Indian Constitution. Later on, in August, responding to the case that was filed in MP, the High Court of MP issued a notice to announce the temporary suspension of the awards.

A special bench of the Supreme Court of India was formed with 5 judges and the special division delivered a judgment which stated that ‘the Bharat Ratna and the Padma awards cannot be categorized under Article 18(1) as they are not titles but merely an honorary award’, thus, the awards were restored and since then, the practice of handing out the Padma awards has been consistent.


List of the famous entities who returned or renounced the Padma awards

  1. Anna Hazare, a social worker and activist, renounced the Padma Shri which was awarded to him in 1990 as a protest against corruption.
  2. Baba Amte, a social activist, renounced the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Shri as a protest against the treatment of the tribal communities.
  3. Sundarlal Bahuguna, the lead environmental activist of the Chipko Movement, refused the Padma Shri as a protest against the felling of the Himalayan trees.
  4. Khushwant Singh, an Indian author, returned the Padma Bhushan as a protest against Operation Blue Star of the Indian Military.
  5. Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, the founder at The Art of Living, declined the Padma Vibhushan as he insisted that there were ‘more deserving people than him’.


The Padma awards are the second-highest honorary civilian awards in India after the Bharat Ratna awards. There are 3 classes of Padma awards and these awards are presented to at least 120 civilians per annum who portray exceptional and distinguished services in fields like Science and engineering, Social services, arts, medicine, sports, etc. These awards were presented to the recipients every year since 1854, except 2 times during 1977 and 1980 because many alleged that the Padma awards deified the meaning of Article 18(1) of the Indian Constitution. But in 1975, a bench of the Supreme Court judges declared their judgement stating that the Padma awards will be restored and they will not be categorized as a ‘title’ therefore, making it clear that the Padma awards do not defy Article 18(1) of the Indian Constitution.




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