Article 18 of the Indian Constitution:
Abolition of titles:
(1) No title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State.
(2) No citizen of India shall accept any title from any foreign State.
(3) No person who is not a citizen of India shall, while he holds any office of profit or trust under the State, accept without the consent of the President any title from any foreign State.
(4) No person holding any office of profit or trust under the State shall, without the consent of the President, accept any present, emolument, or office of any kind from or under any foreign State.
Article 18(1) abolishes all titles. It prohibits the State to confer titles on anybody whether a citizen or a non-citizen. Military and academic distinctions are, however, exempted from the prohibition. Thus, a university can give title or honor on a man of merit. Clause (2) prohibits a citizen of India from accepting any title from any foreign State. Clause (3) prohibits a person not being a citizen of India, but holding any office of profit or trust under the State, from accepting any title from any foreign State without the consent of the President. Clause (4) provides that no person citizen or non citizen holding any office of profit or trust, shall, without consent of the President, accept any present or emolument or office of any kind from or under any foreign State.. Clauses (3) and (4) have been added to ensure that a non-citizen should remain loyal to the State i.e. do not commit the breach of trust reposed in him.
A ‘title’ is something that hangs to one’s name, as an appendage (either prefix or suffix e.g. Sir, Nawab, Maharaja, etc.). A democracy should not create titles and titular glories. This will go against the realization of social equality.
However, the recent conferment of titles of “Bharat Ratna”, “Padma Vibhushan”, “Padma Shri”, etc. (introduced in 1954) are said to be not prohibited under Article 18 as they merely denote State recognition of good work by citizens in the various fields of activity. It may be noted that Article 18 does not secure any fundamental right but imposes a restriction on executive and legislative power. Further, conferring of titles offended against the fundamental principle of equality of all citizens guaranteed by Article 14.
Land Mark case:
In Balaji Raghavan vs UOI, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of civilian honors but criticized the government for not exercising restraint in awarding these. It held that the national awards were not meant to be used as titles and those who have done so should forfeit the award. In this case, the petitioners challenged the conferment of the awards on the ground that it was violative of Article 18(1). They were of the view that the word ‘title’ should be given the widest possible meaning and amplitude in order to give effect to the legislative intent since the only exception to this rule has been carved out in respect of military and academic distinctions. The contention of the Union government (Respondents) was that since the national awards are not titles of nobility and are not to be used as suffixes or prefixes, they are not prohibited by Article 18. Further, almost every country in the world follows the practice of conferring awards for meritorious services rendered by its citizens.
The court observed that during British rule, power to confer titles was being abused for imperialistic purposes and for corrupting public life. In recent years, the conferment of these awards without any firm guidelines and fool-proof method of selection is bound to breed nepotism, favoritism, patronage and even corruption. Thus, an extremely high standard should be prescribed for those awards and the total number of such awards should not exceed 50 every year. “The exercise of such restraint is absolutely necessary to safeguard the importance of these awards”, said Justice Ahmadi. To curb the misuse of this power, the court suggested that a high level committee may be appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the President who will ensure that only deserving persons bestowed the decorations. Justice Kuldip Singh in his separate but concurring judgment suggested that the committee may include the Speaker of Lok Sabha, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
Subsequent to this decision, the Union Government appointed a ‘High Level Review Committee: chaired by the Vice-President, to go into the existing guidelines and fix the criteria for the selection of persons for ‘Padma awards’ so that it would enhance respect for these awards. This Committee suggested the setting up of State-level Committees to forward recommendations to the Centre. The recommended names are to be reviewed by the Centre, by a Committee including the Cabinet Secretary, the Home Secretary and Secretary to the President of India. Thereafter, the finalized names are to be submitted to the Prime Minister’s office and finally sent to the President. There are no guidelines for ‘Bharat Ratna’ awards.