rom the past several years, many people are filing their nomination for Padma Awards, but many of them who deserve these awards are deprived, and many those who are undeserving are trying their hard to possess on by any means. The highest civilian award has lost its sheen. Every year, the central government announces Padma Awards with some or the other polemic over these Awards. Further, there is a criticism that these Padma Awards were announced on the political grounds. On August 19, Jagannathrao Hegde, the former Sheriff of Mumbai, visited my office and expressed his disappointment on the selections of these awards. Dr. Jagannathrao Hegde is a well-known person from Mumbai. A dental surgeon by profession, he was the Sheriff of Mumbai from 2004 to 2006. He was the most active and popular incumbents of the Office of Sheriff of Mumbai. Hegde is also known as a social worker, a well-informed educationist and an enthusiastic sports administrator who has spent a lot of time towards the cause of upliftment of the masses in the city and those residing in the mill labour dominated areas of Kalchowki, Parel, Lalbaug and Bhoiwada for over five decades. He is a little self-possessed personality, who loves to celebrate by all means; his birthday event is known for its grand celebration. He invites hundreds of people and a few common guests are the Congress leaders who are close to him for ages.
Dr. Hegde’s most preferred activity is Dental Health and Medicine. To popularise the concept of dental healthcare, he struck upon the unique concept. The Healthy Teeth Contests and Beautiful Teeth and Smiles Competitions were an instant hit among the students and their parents who got proper and timely advice at the right time. The numbers of those who benefitted would surely run into crores considering the time span of his activities. These activities inspired him to look beyond and further. He got involved in organising other health-related and social activities like Free Eye check-up camps where in addition thousands of needy people were distributed free glasses or spectacles. Taking a step further, he expanded the boundaries of his services by organising Blood Donation Camps. All these activities were carried out on a large scale thus widening his operational base. Seeing his ability to juggle his time between his profession (which earned him his livelihood) and social service, his friends from other professions and diverse strata of the society thought it fit to invite him into other fields like education and sports. Being appointed as the Honorary Adviser of the SNDT University was due recognition of his expertise. He worked as a Trustee to various organisations. Dr. Hegde’s foray in the field of sports started with the Amateur Body Builders’ Association of Maharashtra where he was the Chairman. The Mumbai District Carrom Association has honoured him by nominating him their Patron. He succeeded in eradicating the inhuman practice of employing minors as labourers in hotels, especially in roadside dhabas and small-scale workshops and factories. Lions Club International, the world’s largest organisation dedicated to social service befittingly bestowed upon him The Lion Millennium Award. Now, he is aiming for Padma Award keeping no stone unturned. He believes, the Awards these days are politically motivated and the BJP government is ignoring him because he was a Congress worker. He also believes that the UPA leaders in Maharashtra were after him to take the Padma Award but then in those days, he didn’t show much interest. But now since he is showing the willingness to receive Award, BJP is ignoring. Though he has done his bit for Mumbai, apart from those limited contributions at large, no one really knows him and he never tried exploring social medium to his benefit. He is like that frog in the well which has limited horizon, where he has his fan following, but beyond that zone he needs to make efforts to be known to the common masses. Even in Mumbai, if you ask the common man about him, they will not really know him. Apart from cutting ribbons, organising some sports or health camps, he has no much social contribution that can be called remarkable. Maybe this is one reason he never made it to Padma Award. He feels that the descent in the recent years has been alarming: A Padma Shri for a Bollywood actor charged with poaching the endangered black buck and for a surrendered Kashmiri militant against whom cases of extortion and attempted murder are pending. Personal whims and politics play their part. Rajendra Prasad ordered a Padma Shri for his favourite nurse and Rajiv Gandhi for his school Principal. Gandhi gave MG Ramachandran a posthumous Bharat Ratna to woo the Tamil Nadu electorate, notwithstanding that MGR was cited for tax evasion. VP Singh’s Bharat Ratna for the late Dr. BR Ambedkar betrayed an anxiety to bolster his pro-Dalit agenda. Zail Singh, Vajpayee, and Dr. Manmohan Singh sought to honour their eye, knee and heart surgeons respectively. But Indira Gandhi took the cake; she decorated herself with a Bharat Ratna.
There are many unanswered questions about Padma Awards. Does a private-sector entrepreneur with a negligible record of public service deserve a governmental honour? Doesn’t such an Award compromise the independence and integrity of citizens beholden to criticise and protest against the ill-advised government policies and actions? Do they truly great need any certificate for their greatness? The Padma Awards were instituted in 1954 to be awarded to the citizens of India in recognition of their distinguished contribution in various spheres of activity including the Arts, Education, Industry, Literature, Science, Sports, Medicine, Social Service, and Public Affairs. It has also been awarded to some distinguished individuals who were not citizens of India but did contribute in various ways to India. The selection criteria have been criticised in some quarters with the claim that many highly deserving artists have been left out in order to favour certain individuals. India has now created an online nomination platform for the common citizens to recommend the nomination for the annually given civilian “Padma” Awards. Many feel proud to receive these Awards but there are others who returned these Awards to the government, as of 2017, 2,840 people have received the Award. Several intended recipients, including sitar player Vilayat Khan, academic and author Mamoni Raisom Goswami, journalist Kanak Sen Deka, and noted Bollywood screenwriter Salim Khan, have declined the Padma Shri for various reasons. Some intended recipients, such as environmental activist Sunderlal Bahuguna and English billiards champion Michael Ferreira have refused the honour but have subsequently accepted a more prestigious one such as the Padma Bhushan or Padma Vibhushan. Other individuals, such as author Phanishwar Nath ‘Renu’, Punjabi author Dalip Kaur Tiwana, and noted poet Jayanta Mahapatra have returned the honour after initially accepting it.
Well, let me come back to Jagannathrao Hegde, the Award is still imperative but the recent controversy poses several questions about the worth of the valuable award. Has the Padma Award lost its value? Is it right for people to demand awards to be conferred on them? Whose fault is this? Many questions come to light with disappointment and his questioning the authorities for why his name was not recommended for the Padma Award!
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