E-mail this
Print Article
Titled Citizens — More Equal than EqualsEditorial on Dhavan's Speech
by S.K. Singh, LL.M.

Faculty of Law, University of Kurukshetra

Cite as : (1970) 2 SCC (Jour) 5

By introducing the Conferment of Decorations on Persons (Abolition) Bill, 1969,1 in the Lok Sabha, Acharya J.B. Kripalani, M.P., has furthered the cause of promoting equality in its true spirit. The idea underlying the Bill is that "if we have to strengthen our democracy and socialism and if we are thinking in terms of equality of the citizens, these new distinctions should also be abolished". The pre-independence titles were vehemently criticised as having degrading effects. The same effects cannot be overlooked now. These awards are not always awarded strictly according to merits; and the Government of the day cannot claim itself to be the best judge of merits or eminence of award recipients.

The Constitution-makers sought to abolish the titles by inserting Article 18 (1) in the Constitution of India in order to do away with varied inequalities.2 The abolition of titles stated reassuringly that amongst men all are equals, and there cannot be a class of men who are to be treated as more equal. However, the spirit and purpose of this new injunction was lost when the Government of India sought to bring back the same old inequities by conferring titles and decorations by an executive order. The reintroduction of this practice consequently yielded increasing urges amongst the citizens for being included in the list of award recipients. The tendency assumed larger proportions so much so that: "These new titles were at first given to very few and exceptional persons. This small stream has since become quite a flood and on more than one occasion in a year long lists of names of recipients of new distinctions have been issued by the authorities."3

The governmental practice to award titles as well as to imbibe a spirit amongst a class of men to designate themselves as super citizens have reached an abominable stage. The proposed Bill is meant to be a remedial action because it aims at abolishing the practice of conferring decorations, such as Bharat Ratna Padma, Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri and for matters connected therewith by the State. The proposed Bill however makes express exception for giving cash awards by the State for meritorious services rendered by persons in their respective fields. The Bill also does not prohibit the conferring of appellations such as Mahatma, Netaji or Deshbandhu by the masses to express their spontaneous appreciation of gratitude towards a person or persons. In such cases the titles cannot be the result of favouritism, nepotism and corruption,4 because these are based on the esteem of the public which unlike official titles are favours of few bureaucrats or the ministers who may not always be guided by principles or propriety. The element of undue influence or individual gain is precluded if the conferment of a title is by the masses by way of adulation of an individual.

The proposed Bill does not come in the way of encouraging the artists, scientists and litterateurs who are to be accorded recognition for their merits. The proposed Bill has been presented with excellent combination of restricting the evil without hampering the encouragement for recognition of merit. If we have to strengthen our democracy and the Rule of Law in India thereby guaranteeing equality to citizens it is imperative that these newly grown distinctions should be abolished at the earliest.

In the past the British Government was accused for conferring titles on Indian subjects on the ground that it was done with ulterior motives to discriminate among the citizens and was tantamount in dividing loyalties. To prevent such abuse of power and to abolish the vestiges the members of Constituent Assembly incorporated Article 18(1).

The adoption of Article 12 (now Article 18) raised considerable controversies during the drafting of Indian Constitution. The primary note on fundamental rights concerning abolition of these titles was projected by Professor K.T. Shah. It had as many as five clauses of prohibitions and restrictions on the conferment and acceptance of the titles, honours, distinctions and privileges. Professor Shah made a passionate appeal in the sub-committee of fundamental rights for abolition of the titles and privileges conferred by the British Government. He sought to seek support for prohibiting the State for further use of this underhand practice. The sub-committee by the majority vote accepted the provisions for abolition of titles. When this clause came up for consideration before Advisory Committee the extreme viewpoints were expressed. On the one side Sarvashri C. Rajagopalachari, Aladi Krishnaswami Ayyar and M. Ruthnaswami proposed to delete the clause on the ground that the State should award titles to provide recognition and incentive to those who rendered social services. Professor K.T. Shah and Mr K.M. Pannikar were of the contrary view. The suggestion to delete the clause was lost by 14 votes to 10. However, the clause was redrafted to give room to Pannikar's suggestion that only heritable titles should be abolished by the Constitution.

When the matter came up before the Constituent Assembly on April 30, 1947, Mr M.R. Masani suggested that the word 'heritable' should be dropped. He argued that in free India the State should not confer any title at all whether heritable or otherwise. The feeling in this regard was so explicit that Seth Govinddas and Shri H.V. Kamath argued in the Constituent Assembly that Article 12 now Article 18(1) should not only prohibit the future conferment of the titles but should also provide for the abolition of titles already conferred on individuals by the Imperial Government.

There could have been two solutions of the problem, namely, (1) to abolish all the titles retrospectively, i.e. including those titles which were conferred before August 15, 1947, or (2) prohibiting the State prospectively from conferring the titles by a constitutional mandate. The Constituent Assembly opted for the second solution on persuasion of Sardar Patel when he pleaded to forget all about the past titles. Sardar Patel pleaded that the disturbing of these titles might be "interpreted as a sign of spiteful feeling". In the midst of several suggestions and comments the provision was formulated to read as:

"Title or other privileges of birth shall not be conferred by the State."5

However in the draft proposal of the drafting committee, the word 'hereditary' preceded the word 'title' but when it was taken up by the Constituent Assembly for consideration, more than two dozen amendment notices were given by the members. Three such notices were pressed, the amendment moved by Mr T.T. Krishnamachari which added the words "not being a military or academic distinction" after the words "title" in clause (1) is important. The amendment was accepted and the Article adding these words was adopted by the Assembly.6 Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel while moving for the abolition of the title and placing this Article under the chapter of fundamental rights, in a forceful speech observed that the British titles were "abused for corrupting the public life of the country", and their abolition should be made a fundamental right. A perusal of the Constituent Assembly debates thus indicate that the intention of the framers of the Indian Constitution was to put "a restriction on the executive and legislative power"7 of the State to confer titles on the citizens of India.

Though Article 18(1) of the Indian Constitution, unlike other fundamental rights, has not been the subject-matter of debates in the courts, it has recently drawn attention of the press8 and the jurists.9 It is also awaiting discussion in the Parliament.10 Article 18 of the Constitution prohibits the conferment of titles by the State except for academic or military distinctions. It has been classified as one of the species of Right to Equality11 in the chapter of fundamental rights. In view of the fact that the Union Government has been conferring certain decorations as State awards on Indian citizens the rule underlying Article 18(1) seems to be negatived. It is proposed to analyse the situation created by the State action of awarding the title vis-a-vis Article 18(1) of the Constitution of India. The reading of Article 18(1) of the Constitution makes it explicit that military and academic distinctions form exceptions to the general rule that titles are not to be conferred by the State. There is no controversy about the practice of the Government of India conferring gallantry awards to military personnel for extraordinary devotion in discharge of their duties and showing tremendous bravery to defend their motherland. Awards like Mahavir Chakra or Paramvir Chakra are, therefore, validly permissible within the constitutional limits of Article 18(1). However, Bharat Ratna and other such State awards cannot be placed at the same footing as that of military or academic awards. Doubts are expressed as to their constitutional validity. It is necessary to examine the meaning of the words title, "academic" and "distinction" in order to understand the import and signification of these key words so that the validity of these awards could be ascertained. Basu defines the titles as "something that hangs to one's name, as an appendage".12 The dictionary meaning of the 'title' includes "descriptive designation".13 The expressions "academic" and "distinction" have been explained to include "scholarly, classical and literary, rather than technical", and "a distinguishing mark of quality, a mark of honour, superiority". 14 It can thus be concluded that the titles are descriptive designations to be used as prefixes or suffixes by the title-holders thereby distinguishing themselves superiorly against common citizens.

Academic distinctions cannot be titles because these distinctions are acquired or conferred according to the set academic standards by such institutions which have a promotional interest in academic learnings. The recipients of these distinctions are generally such persons who have pursued prescribed courses of studies or are devotedly assigned to the pursuit of learning. Such academic distinctions have nothing in common with the titles. Accordingly Shri Seervai is of the view that "it is difficult to believe that 'Padam Shri' or 'Padma Bhushan' or 'Padma Vibushan', and the like, are academic distinctions".15 Consequently, the State is not competent to confer anything more than the military awards or academic degrees for distinctive recognition.

However, in 1958 the Government of India introduced the titles by backdoor method and instituted titles as decorations in the form of medals an executive order.16 These awards are classified into four categories, viz. BharatRatna, Padam Bibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padam Shree. The Padam Bibhushan is further classified as Pahla Varg, Dusra Varg and Teesra Varg. The Bharat Ratna may be awarded for "exceptional services towards the advancement of art, literature and science and also in recognition of public service". Other awards are meant to be conferred for "distinguished public service in any field, including service rendered by Government servant". The argument is that since these decorations are not to be used as appendage to names of the recipients, these cannot be deemed "titles" within the meaning of Article 18(1) of the Constitution. The factual position is in a reverse way.17

Assuming that these decorations are not titles, it would be relevant to examine whether these decorations have always been conferred to connote recognition only of such persons who have rendered exceptional services. In the beginning the awards were conferred upon a few personages, which in the coming years opened floodgates for well known, less known and even unknown persons. A regular "honours list" appears every year and the State awards have become a regular feature. Recent years have witnessed the conferment of awards to business magnates or to such industrialists who have used their skill in multiplying their own holdings and can hardly be said to have helped the growth of national wealth. Men without having any creditable antecedents, contributions or record of service can be seen masquerading as titled citizens.18 In some cases the awardees have very little to do with the art, literature, science, or public service. Thus the tall claim of the Government that these awards are conferred strictly according to set principles of recognition of the nation in several fields is not tenable.

The conferment of awards causes discrimination not only between the awardees and the ordinary citizens, but it also discriminates between the awardees inter se. The awardees are differently categorised. Moreover, in "warrant of precedence", the awardees are ranked below the union cabinet ministers which further belies the Government claim that the title-holders are not being given any privileged treatment.

The obnoxious thing about the whole matter is that while the civilisation is on the march towards equality and fraternity, the society is using its power processes to inhibit a sense of inferiority amongst the sizeable section of its populace as against a microscopic minority of titled citizens. A State which perpetuates inequity even in smaller degrees creates denizens out of its own citizens. Such a State action is tenable neither morally nor legally. The Bill, therefore, needs full support of the freedom-loving individuals so that the "more equals" could be levelled with all other equals.

  1. J.B. Kripalani's Bill No. 37/1969 entitled "The Conferment of Decorations on Persons (Abolition) Bill, 1969. Return to Text
  2. Article 18 of the Constitution provides, Abolition of titles: "(1) No title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State.
    (2) . . . . . . . . . .
    (3) . . . . . . . . . .
    (4) . . . . . . . . . . Return to Text
  3. Supra footnote 1. Return to Text
  4. See "How Tories 'bought' Honours broken", National Herald, New Delhi, August 31, 1969. Return to Text
  5. Clause 7 in the draft report of the Advisory Committee provided; 'No heritable titles shall be conferred by the Union', and clause 8 in the final report of the Sub-Committee suggested, 'No titles except those denoting an office or a profession shall be conferred by the Union'. B. Shiva Rao-The Farming of India's Constitution Select Documents, Vol. II, pp. 49, 172 (1967). Return to Text
  6. 7 C.A.D. 704-711. Return to Text
  7. For details see-Shiva Rao-The Framing of India's Constitution A Study-pp. 205-210. Return to Text
  8. See-"Quiet Flows the Padma", The Statesman, May 5, 1968, (Delhi Edition), "State Awards", The Indian Express, New Delhi Edition, May 20, 1969; Singh S. K. "State Awards", The Indian Express, May 29, 1969 (New Delhi Edn.). Return to Text
  9. V.G. Ramachandran: Fundamental Rights and Constitutional Remedies, Vol. 2, p. 518-19 (1968), Prasad: "Social Equality Contemplated by Article 18 of the Indian Constitution", 1 JCPS No. 4, p. 71 (1967), Murthuswamy "Titles", 1959 SCJ 111 (Journal Section). Return to Text
  10. Supra Note 1. Return to Text
  11. Jennings has observed that Article 18(1) has been "incorrectly summarised by the marginal note" and according to him there is no breach of equality by conferring the titles. Jennings-Some Characteristics of Indian Constitution, (1953 Edn.) p. 18. Return to Text
  12. Basu-Commentary on the Indian Constitution of Inda, Vol. I (1965 Edn.), p. 541. Return to Text
  13. Funk and Wagnalls-Standard Dictionary, 1965 Edn., p. 1318. Return to Text
  14. Supra, p. 371. Return to Text
  15. Seervai-Constitutional Law of India, 252-1968 Edn. Return to Text
  16. Nos. 1-2 pres-54: Gazette of India, Extraordinary, 2-1-1954, Pt. I, S. I. Return to Text
  17. The press note, dated February 21, 1959, issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs advised the awardees not to affix or preffix the awards with their names. Our view further gains strength from these observations: "To cap everything, some recipients of new Padma awards began to get into the act by treating their designations as personal titles. In vain has the Home Ministry repeatedly pointed out that these are and can be no such thing, most recently a notification last month. Mr Chavan was forced to admit on April 30 that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, for instance, had erred in a notification by prefixing Padma Shri to somebody's name; though no Bharat Ratnas seem to have been implicated, an instance was given by an M.P. of alleged misuse of the Padma Bhushan in the bulletin of an institution, and we have come across other cases of titular misappropriation by private persons." (See The Stateman, Delhi Edn., dated May 5, 1968). Return to Text
  18. See Hindustan Times, New Delhi, March 16, 1970. Return to Text
Search On Page:

Enter Search Word:

  Search Archives
  Search Case-Law
  Search Bookstore
  Search All

Archives of SCC Articles
  Subjectwise Listing of Articles
  Chronological Listing of Articles
  Articles Exclusively on the Internet
  More Articles...

Most Accessed Articles
Recent Articles