Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged his fellow countrymen to put forward the names of people doing "exceptional work at the grassroots" for this year's Padma Awards, the nominations for which close on 15 September.
Among the nation's highest civilian awards, the three Padma awards, Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, honour distinguished service across a variety of fields.
Who confers the Padma awards?
The names of the Padma winners are announced every year on the eve of Republic Day. The awards seek to recognise achievement "in all fields of activities or disciplines where an element of public service is involved". The Padma awards are conferred by the president, usually in the month of March/April, based on the recommendations made by the Padma Awards Committee, which is constituted by the prime minister every year.
When were they first given?
Along with the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, the Padma awards were instituted in 1954. Initially, the award was known as the Padma Vibhushan and had three classes: Pahela Varg, Dusra Varg and Tisra Varg. But these names were subsequently changed to Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri by a Presidential Notification issued in 1955.
Specifically, Padma Vibhushan is given for "exceptional and distinguished service", the Padma Bhushan for "distinguished service of a high order", and the Padma Shri for "distinguished service".
Since their institution, the Padma awards have been given every year except between 1978 and 1979 and 1993 to 1997.
What are the criteria for receiving the award?
According to the Padma Awards portal maintained by the Union Home Ministry, any citien of India irrespective of race, occupation, position or sex is eligible for these awards. But government servants, including those working with PSUs, are not eligible for these awards although an exception has been made for doctors and scientists.
Awardees can be chosen from any field like the arts, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and sport, etc.
The total number of Padma awards to be conferred each year is limited to 120 although that count excludes posthumous awards and any non-resident Indian or Overseas Citizen of India or foreign-based winners.
How are the nominations made?
Recommendations for the each year's award list are usually sought between 1 May and 15 September from all the state governments and the Union Territories and the Central Government ministries and departments. Past Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan awardees and Institutes of Excellence can also put forward names as can Central and state ministers, chief ministers and the governors of the various states and Members of Parliament.
Private individuals and organisations, too, can make recommendations and "even self-nomination can be made".
In 2018, a Union home ministry notice had said that names for the annual honours could henceforth be only submitted online on the Padma awards portal per the format laid down along with a maximum 800-word citation "clearly bringing out the distinguished and exceptional achievements/service of the person recommended".
The Centre has said there is "no rigid criteria or trenchant formula for selection" of an awardee but that the main consideration is the "lifetime achievement of an individual".
"The award is given for 'special services' and not merely for long service. It should not be merely excellence in a particular field, but the criteria has to be 'excellence plus'," states the Padma awards selection criteria.
The winners are shortlisted by the Padma Awards Committee and the names are then submitted to the prime minister and the president for approval. This committee is headed by the Union Cabinet Secretary and includes the home secretary, secretary to the president and four to six eminent persons as members.
What is included as part of the Padma awards?
The Padma awards come with no cash prize, but recipients get a certificate signed by the president and a medallion. The winners are also given a small replica of the medallion "which they can wear during any ceremonial/State functions" if they so desire. The names of the awardees are published in the Gazette of India on the day of the presentation ceremony. Further, the award does not represent a title that can be used as a suffix or prefix to the awardees’ name.
While the nation's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, too, does not include a cash prize and does not amount tp a title, it confers certain privileges on the recipient when it comes to official ceremonies, travel via State-owned carriers and their passport.