First president of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad ordered for establishing biggest ever civilian award Bharat Ratna on January 2, 1954. Concept of awarding this award posthumously was not there in the original statute declared in January 1954...


Key Points

Soon after the award was established its original concept followed presenting a circular gold medal that would have state emblem and motto and rest aspects as decided thereafter. Factors including concrete decision about design to choose...



Posthumous Bharat Ratna award to the Indian freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in 1992 came into news for typical reasons. A Public Interest Litigation stalled everything and the award was forced to be withdrawn thereafter...



India’s highest civilian award the “Bharat Ratna” has been embroiled in controversies and PILs or Public Interest litigations since it has been instated in 1954.

Subhas Chandra Bose (1992)

As is routinely done, the President’s Secretariat issued a press release on 23rd Jan 1992, that Bharat Ratna would be awarded to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose posthumously. This press release caused a lot of criticism and a PIL was also filed against this decision in the Kolkata High Court.

The objections against the award being conferred on Bose were many. The petitioner of the PIL objected as he claimed that the Bose was higher than this state award and hence it was absurd and preposterous to confer such an award on S C Bose.  The petitioner also claimed that a person of the stature of Bose was such that it could not be compared or clubbed with other recipients of this honour; both past and future.

Another issue was that since the Indian Government had never accepted the fact that Bose died on 18th August 1945, the Government could not confer the award on Bose posthumously. The petitioner demanded that the Shah Nawaz Committee and the Khosla Commission reports be made available to know about Bose and his location since 1945 till date.  Also Bose’s family was not keen at all to accept this posthumous honour.

A Special Division Bench of Supreme Court Judges was formed to decide about the matter. As per the rules relating to these high civilian awards such as Bharat Ratna and the Padma Awards, the names of the recipients have to be published in the official gazette and entry has to be made in an official register of recipients of the awards. Also, the Award Certificate or Sanad had not been signed by the President.  Since this was not done and only a press release had been published, the question of revoking the award did not arise and the press release was taken as cancelled.

The bench did not comment upon the demand of the PIL about the death of Bose.

Constitutional Validity (1992)

The constitutional validity of conferring the Bharat Ratna and Padma Awards was challenged by PIls filed in 1992 in  Kerala and Madhya Pradesh High Courts. The petitions questioned the constitutional validity of the civilian awards being ‘titles’ as per  the Article18(1) of the Constitution.

As a result of the petition in Madhya Pradesh Court, the court issued temporary suspension of civilian awards in India on 25th August 1992. The Supreme Court then formed a Divisional Bench of 5 judges and reviewed the matter. The decision of this Bench reinstated the awards and declared that the civilian awards are not titles as per the Constitution in December 1995.

C. N. R. Rao and Sachin Tendulkar (2013)

The declaration of Bharat Ratna Awardees of 2013, Dr. C. N.R. Rao and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar also created  a lot of controversy and many PILs were filed challenging the decision to give the awards.

The Public Interest Litigation against conferring the award on Dr. C. N. Rao   was because the petitioners claimed that more eminent Indian Scientists like Dr. Homi Bhabha or Dr. Vikram Sarabhai had not received the honour although their contribution to science was more valuable. Also Dr. Rao’s claim of having published 1400 research papers did not hold water as it was impossible to publish so many papers in one life time. The petitioner also claimed that there were allegations of plagiary against Dr. Rao and hence his award should be revoked.

The Public Interest Litigation to EC of India against conferring the award on world renowned cricketer Sachin Tendulkar was under the RTI Act(Right to Information). The petitioner claimed that awarding the Bharat Ratna to Tendulkar was against the “ Model Code of Conduct” to be followed for selection of the awardees. This was because Sachin tendulkar was a nominated by the Congress Party as a member of the Rajya Sabha  and as there were state elections in process in the states of Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh  and Mizoram the electorate would be influenced.

There was another Public Interest Litigation against Sachin Tendulkar and ministers of the central government for conspiring to disregard another notable sportsman; the Indian Hockey player of yester years Dhyan Chand

However all the PILs against the two Honourees were rejected and the Bharat Ratna  award was conferred on Dr. CN Rao and Sachin Tendulkar in 2013.