Resul Pookutty was an obscure name and would have remained like that, had he not won the Oscar. In his own country, he would have always remained a dispensable and not so important sound technician, had the Oscar jury not decided to give him the coveted award. When the Oscar jury had shown to the world what Resul Pookutty was and what talent he had, his country’s government suddenly realized that it was time to give him something. And thus, he was given the Padma Shri award – thanks to the Oscar of course! One is forced to think then how many such Resul Pookuttys might be there in this country, people who are never recognized.

Since Independence, the Padma awards have been one of the most coveted set of awards of this country, and for not just the award in itself, but for the prestige and honour that it carries. It is meant for the best and is meant to encourage others to strive for excellence. Yet, in spite of all these, and in spite of the supreme importance attached to it, one is left to wonder how the decisions about conferring these awards are taken. One is also forced to wonder who all decide the awards and how much can personal interest or influence decide the matters vis a vis institutional procedures. The Oscars – awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – are considered to be one of the best in the world for not just the fact that the awards are given only to the best of the best and that too in the US, but also the fact that the whole process of selecting the films and scrutinizing nominations by a large jury of eminent individuals, reflects the level of scrupulous transparency. Thus, it becomes very difficult for anyone to influence the ultimate result. Needless to say, the Oscars have their own process in place wherein the government of US has no role to play. And the same is true for all globally recognized awards. The question is, for the Padma awards, do we have a jury of eminent people who decide the winners’ names based on certain transparent and structured processes? On the contrary, it has been revealed most shockingly through an RTI (Right to Information Act) application that it is the Cabinet Secretary, Home Secretary, Principal Secretary of Prime Minister and the President’s Secretary, along with four non-official members, who decide on the names (of the winners) and then send the same to the Prime Minister and the President for final approval. The ‘exclusive’ credentials these secretaries ostensibly have to decide about who all deserve to be given the highest national award of the country, remain questionable in themselves! And what guarantees that there is no scope for lobbying and favouritism in awarding the awards? To top it all, there exist no set parameters for these awards, which makes it even simpler for the above team to act on their whims and fancies. Isn’t the whole Padma award process getting transformed into the way the bureaucracy runs this nation? Today, no one bothers about who becomes the minister and who votes for whom in the Parliament – as it has become rather an open and perhaps an acceptable secret that everything can be bought with the right infl uences in place. So, are we witnessing a scenario wherein the Padma awards too are going in that direction? How does one justify then that in response to an RTI application fi led in 2009 by Subhash Agarwal, it has been revealed that Olympic medalists Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar’s names were not included in the final 2009 awardees list by the Padma Awards Committee, even when their names had been forwarded to the Committee by the Sports Ministry within the due date.

When someone like Aamir Khan or A. R Rehman receives a Padma award, one can only feel happy for and proud of them because of the incredible contribution they have made in performing arts. But to believe that some US-based Sant Chatwal would be getting this award even when there are allegations of his being involved in some financial scam and being charge-sheeted for the same by CBI on four accounts (he reportedly has a $9 million default with SBI and some other public sector banks), raises the questions in terms of the veracity of these awards. And now, one is again forced to wonder how could someone like him receive the nation’s most coveted award? Let’s get it straight – Sant Chatwal is no Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, and neither has he conjured up any major contribution to society, barring some failed efforts to promote his son Vikram Chatwal in Bollywood. So, is it for all of these that he is being awarded and put on the same league as the brilliant Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, an Indian American and a Padma awardee who won the most recent Nobel Prize for Chemistry?

One has to accept that there are very few institutions on which the common man of India today has trust and faith. The Padma awards are precisely one of them. If this too gets mired in red tape, nepotism and bureaucracy, then that would probably be the worst conspiracy against our existing and future geniuses!

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