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Padma award norms always ignored.

Centre has always ignored Narayanan panel's guidelines flouted

THE controversy over the conferring of a Padma award on NRI businessman Sant Singh Chatwal that carries shades of political favours is not new to the country's top awards. But, little attempts have been made by successive governments to make the process more transparent and accountable.

None less than APJ Abdul Kalam as President wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee, saying the Padma awards should be transparent. Prior to this, the Supreme Court had set up a committee headed by former president K. R. Narayanan that came out with guidelines on how Padma awards should be decided.

But governments have ignored these attempts to correct the system and use the Padma awards as a system of patronage and repayment of favours.

As several Right To Information ( RTI) petitions by activist Subash Chandra Agarwal revealed, the home ministry that draws up the list has not made any real attempt to follow the Narayanan committee guidelines, but instead turns down attempts through such petitions for greater transparency.

Litterateur U. R. Ananthamurthy, a member of the Narayanan committee that drew up the guidelines, expressed his disappointment over the lack of implementation of the guidelines.

" The guidelines were implemented only the year we gave the awards.

After that, they have been flouted.

Except in the cases of some scientists and writers, where you cannot go much wrong, the awards are being used for political purposes. It turns particularly shady when you are giving it to business people or spiritual leaders who should know better than take awards,'' he said.

According to Ananthamurthy, award selection was done arbitrarily as committee members have to take a call on over a thousand applications within a matter of hours. '' They need to be given time to do these things properly. The chief minister of each state is under tremendous pressure to recommend all kinds of people, but the responsibility for giving the award is finally with the selection committee that will be held responsible for all the bad selections,'' he said.

Kalam was clear in his " secret'' letter to Vajpayee. The letter, sourced through an RTI application, said that the Narayanan committee guidelines should be followed through before the Padma lists were announced.

He said: " I would request the PM to arrange to have the following ensured before releasing the list: ( i) that there are no adverse reports about the prospective Padma awardees from any of the investigating agencies/ organisations ( ii) that no person has been recommended for the award except on the recommendations of the awards committee on the guidelines of the High Level Committee ( Narayanan committee) set up in pursuance of the judgement of the Supreme Court.'' Neither of these two guidelines seems to have been followed in general as the awards committee is not given reports of tax or criminal records of the prospective awardees.

The President's office, the vicepresident's office, the PMO and the home minister can give their recommendations even up to the last minute. Another RTI petition even revealed that two persons -- Dr Bindeshwar Pathak and Kishorebhai Ratilal Zaveri -- were given the awards on January 30, four days after Republic Day, without any formal public announcement.

Another member of the Narayanan committee, educationist Yash Pal, was philosophic about the visible flouting of rules. He said he had himself been on the awards committee, but excused himself.

" There are lots of recommendations from ministries.

There are influences and we cannot avoid it too much. Many good people who haven't asked for the awards are left out,'' he said.

WHAT THE GUIDELINES SAY

Awards committee should be constituted for a term of two years

Maximum number of Padma awards, including all three categories, should be 60

No awards should be given except through the recommendations of the awards committee

Applications for the awards should reach MHA by October 1

Verification of awardees by investigating agencies about their character and antecedents

Criteria should not be merely excellence, but '' excellence plus,'' a lifetime achievement

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Jan 29, 2010
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