Prime Minister Narendra Modi has democratised the process of selection for Padma Awards, which has resulted in more and more unsung heroes getting recognition.

This year, names of 85 persons have been announced for the awards. Most of the recipients are unsung heroes, coming from humble backgrounds. They chose to work among the ordinary people so that their lives could change. In the process, they themselves became “distinguished”.

This has been made possible after the nomination process was made simple three years ago. Now any ordinary citizen can nominate others for the awards. 

Previously, only Union ministers, Ministers of State, Chief Ministers, Governors, Members of Parliament, previous recipients and important persons could do the honours. The process involved lobbying. Those who succeeded would get it. But that’s not the case now. 

The nomination process is now completely online in order to maintain transparency. This has completely eliminated lobbying. The list is concise which indicates that thorough scrutiny is being done. Earlier, the list extended above 100. The total admissible limit per year is 120. 

A senior folk artiste, who was conferred the Padma Shri award last year, told this newspaper, he was “pleasantly surprised” when he got a call from an official from the Home Ministry 10 days before the Republic Day, saying his name had been cleared for the award. “I had done nothing. And obviously, I did not go for any lobbying. Had I done this, I would have got it 15 years ago. It was a pleasant experience,” he said.

The artiste, however, said the government should further simplify the process. “There should be a neutral committee, which should keep an eye on the deserving people. Their job should be just confined to identifying such people and recommend their names,” he added. A political source recalled how an artiste used his links with a former Cabinet Minister to get his name cleared for the Padma awards, a few years ago, which surprised everyone as his contribution to his art form was almost negligible. In fact, there were protests from the artistes’ fraternity to take back the honour. 

Some of the unsung heroes who were selected for this year’s awards include Arvind Gupta (scientist toymaker), Bhajju Shyam (guru of Gond kala), Lakshmikutty (a tribal woman who can make 500 herbal medicines from memory), Sudhanshu Biswas (freedom fighter and social worker), M.R. Rajagopal (doctor specializing in pain-free surgeries), Murlikant Petkar (war hero who became India’s first Paralympic gold medalist), Nouf Marwaai (yoga trainer of Saudi Arabia), Ibrahim Sutar (Sufi bhajan singer), Rajgopalan Vasudeven (plastic road maker) and Anwar Jalalpuri (Urdu poet). The Padma awards—Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri—are being conferred every year since 1955 by the President upon individuals in recognition to their exceptional/distinguished achievement or service to the society. 

Till now, 2,913 people have got the Padma Shri, 1,241 Padma Bhushan, 303 Padma Vibhushan and 45 have got the Bharat Ratna. The awards are decided by a committee constituted by the Prime Minister every year.

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