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Balaji Raghavan v UOI 1995

Case Name :Balaji Raghavan v UOI 1995
Equivalent Citations:(1996) 1 SCC 361
Date of Judgement:15/12/1995
Case No: Transfer Petition (Civil) No. 09 of 1994
Case Type:Transfer Petition 
Petitioner:Balaji Raghavan / S.P. Anand 
Respondent:Union Of India 
Bench:Hon’ble Chief Justice A.M. Ahmadi, Hon’ble Justice Kuldip Singh, Hon’ble Justice B.P Jeevan Reddy, Hon’ble Justice N.P. Singh, Hon’ble Justice S. Sahagir Ahmed 
Statutes Referred:Article 18 of the Indian Constitution Article 18 (1) of the Indian Constitution


Article 18 of Indian Constitution,  

Facts Of the Case 

  • Balaji Raghavan filed a petition under article 226 of the constitution by the writ of mandamus before the Kerala High Court on 13th February, 1992.
  • Between September 30, 1992, and April 7, 1994, the two opposing parties submitted written arguments and counter arguments to the Kerala High Court.
  • The High Court of Kerala did not hear oral arguments or issue any interim orders during this time.
  • On April 17, 1968, the Government of India issued a press note clarifying that the practise of using Civilian Awards, such as Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, and Padma Shri, as titles on letterheads, invitation cards, posters, books, and so on, is against the Government’s scheme because the awards are not titles and their use along with the names of individuals is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, which has abolished titles.
  • The National Awards were decommissioned on August 8, 1977. However, on January 25, 1980, the Government of India reinstated the earlier rescinded prizes. Since then, National Awards have been presented on Republic Day every year.
  • Article 18 of the Indian Constitution relates to the Abolition of Titles, and Article 18(1) states that “no title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State.”

Issues Raised 

“Whether the Awards, Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, and Padma Shri are “Titles” within the meaning of Article 18(1) of the Constitution of India?” 


Contention of the Petitioner

  • Article 18(1) forbids the State from bestowing “titles” except for military and academic distinctions; nevertheless, the terms “titles” and “distinction” are not defined.
  • Petitioner claimed that the intention of the Constitution’s framers was to abolish the British practise of awarding various “titles” to Indian nationals who curry favour with them.
  • It was also argued that the National Awards made distinctions based on rank. They are separated into superior and inferior classes, with the holders of the Bharat Ratna occupying the ninth position in the Warrant of Precedence.
  • It was noted that a few prize winners had adopted the custom of adding these honours to their names and using them as titles on their letterheads, in publications, and at public events.
  • All these reasons, according to the learned counsel, have resulted in the development of a rank of people based on State recognition, similar to how nobility was conferred during British rule.
  • According to him, this clearly violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees every citizen equality of status, when read alongside with the Preamble.
  • It was also noted that there are no objective standards over time, these prizes have become largely regarded as honours given by the ruling class, or current government, to individuals who further their political objectives. 

Contention Of Respondents  

  • The Attorney General of India put forward arguments on behalf of the Union of India.
  • Every government in the world, including republican and socialist constitutions, follows the practise of presenting prizes on its inhabitants for their great contributions.
  • According to the common and contextual definition of the word “title” in Article 18, it indicates a title of honour, position, function, or office with a distinctive appellation. According to him, an appellation is a name or title by which a person is called or known, something that is generally prefixed or suffixed, such as Sir, K.C.I.E., Maharaja, Nawab, Dewan Bahadur, and so on. It was those appellations that appear as prefixes or suffixes that are sought to be prohibited by Article 18(1).
  • The attorney general referred to a Press Note issued by the Government of India on April 17, 1968.
  • The learned counsel also contended that the phrases “not being a military or academic distinction” in Article 18 had been used with extreme caution because military and academic titles, such as General, Colonel, Professor, Mahavir Chakra, B.A., and so on, do have suffixes or prefixes, the writers of the Constitution expressly stated that they would be exempted.
  • The learned Attorney General then reaffirmed his claim that republican countries around the world have rewards for commendable services that are like these National rewards, and that these National Awards do not violate the right to equality guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution.

Mr. Santosh Hegde, Senior Counsel, responded to the request to appear as amicus curiae and presented arguments before the bench. He claimed that these awards were being blatantly exploited. He also cited the opinions of renowned writers Mr. D.D. Basu and Mr. H.M. Seervai. He walked us through the crucial arguments that took place in the Constituent Assembly and made the argument that the Constitution does call for the State to appreciate the outstanding contributions that people have provided by bestowing awards. Additionally, he agreed with the learned Attorney General’s argument that the phrase “military or academic distinction” had been used with extreme caution. He stated that the amount of awards that can be given out should be limited, and that civil officials and public employees shouldn’t typically be eligible for these prizes unless there are exceptional circumstances.

The bench then referred to the events that had taken place before Article 18(1) was introduced.

It is obvious that the British practise of awarding titles was something the founders of the Constitution wanted to abolish when they passed Article 18(1). As a result, they abolished titles of nobility and any other titles with prefixes or suffixes because they created a distinct, unequal class of individuals. However, the founders did not intend for the State to not formally reward distinction or work of a particularly exceptional type. However, they stipulated that the recipients must not use the honours bestowed by the State as titles or as suffixes or prefixes.


The Chief Justice of India, A.M. Ahmadi’s proposed that the Bharat Ratna and Padma awards are not “titles” under Article 18 of the Indian Constitution. Citizens may get these honours for remarkable and outstanding work in the arts, literature, sciences, and other fields. These prizes have a national character, and only individuals who have excelled at the national level are eligible.

The key question was whether the prizes were being given to those who deserve them and if the goal of establishing them had been met.

He recommended a national committee be formed by the Prime Minister of India in consultation with the President of India, which might include, among others, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Chief Justice of India or his nomination, and the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. Similar committees may be established at the State level by the Governor and the Chief Minister of the State. 

To maintain each category’s distinction and dignity, the number of awards were to be reduced. The total number of awards to be given out in a particular year were limited to fifty.

The writ petitions were disposed of without any cost.


It is crucial to recognize citizens for their contributions to empowering them, yet awarding them for these contributions leads to discrimination not just between awardees and ordinary citizens but also unhealthy rivalry among awardees individuals. 

The purpose of Clause 1 of Article 18 is to end the corrupting, corrosive practice of people currying favour with those in positions of authority in order to obtain certain advantages.

Awards recognize a wide range of attributes, including ability, struggle, efforts, etc. in addition to success. Citizenship is legal under the Constitution and does not contravene article 14. 

If a recipient of an award misuses it, the award will be forfeited and punishment can also be given.

The Supreme Court provided guidance on the procedure to be followed prior to awarding the award. It was stated that there should be a system of awards and decorations to acknowledge citizens’ excellence in performing their obligations. The awarding of Padma Awards in the absence of solid or sufficient guidelines, is guaranteed to develop nepotism, favoritism, and corruption.

written by Nishita Mehta, NMIMS Kirit P Mehta School of Law, 2nd Semester, an intern under Legal Vidhiya 


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