India's Highest Civilian Honors

India's Highest Civilian Honors

The Bharat Ratna and Padma Awards were instituted in 1954. All persons without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex are eligible for these awards.

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India takes great pride in recognizing and honoring individuals who have made exceptional contributions to society through its prestigious civilian awards.

Two of the most esteemed awards in this category are the Bharat Ratna and the Padma Awards.

In this article, we will look into the significance, categories, selection process, and unique features of these awards, shedding light on their role in honoring excellence in various fields.


  • The Government of India instituted two civilian awards-Bharat Ratna & Padma Vibhushan in 1954.
    • The latter had three classes namely Pahela Varg, Dusra Varg and Tisra Varg.
    • These were subsequently renamed as Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri vide Presidential Notification issued on January 8, 1955.

BHARAT RATNA: The Highest Civilian Award of the country

  • Bharat Ratna is awarded in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour.
  • It is treated on a different footing from Padma Award.
  • The recommendations for Bharat Ratna are made by the Prime Minister to the President of India.
  • No formal recommendations for Bharat Ratna are necessary.
The number of Bharat Ratna Awards is restricted to a maximum of 'three' in a particular year.
  • Government has conferred Bharat Ratna Award on 48 persons till date.

List of Bharat Ratna Recipients

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The Padma Awards are one of the highest civilian honours of India announced annually on the eve of Republic Day.

Padma Awards

The award seeks to recognize achievements in all fields of activities or disciplines where an element of public service is involved.

  • The Padma Awards are conferred on the recommendations made by the Padma Awards Committee
    • It is constituted by the Prime Minister every year.
    • The nomination process is open to the public.
    • Even self-nomination can be made.
Did You Know?
Government servants including those working with PSUs, except doctors and scientists, are not eligible for these Awards.
  • The total number of awards to be given in a year (excluding posthumous awards and to NRI/foreigners/OCIs) should not be more than 120.

So who are eligible for the Awards?

  • All persons without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex are eligible for these awards.
  • The award seeks to recognize works of distinction and is given for distinguished and exceptional achievements/service in all fields of activities/disciplines.

An illustrative list of the fields is as under:

  • Art (includes Music, Painting, Sculpture, Photography, Cinema, Theatre etc.)
  • Social work (includes social service, charitable service, contribution in community projects etc.)
  • Public Affairs (includes Law, Public Life, Politics etc.)
  • Science & Engineering (includes Space Engineering, Nuclear Science, Information Technology, Research & Development in Science & its allied subjects etc.)
  • Trade & Industry (includes Banking, Economic Activities, Management, Promotion of Tourism, Business etc.)
  • Medicine (includes medical research, distinction/specialization in Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Sidhha, Allopathy, Naturopathy etc.)
  • Literature & Education (includes Journalism, Teaching, Book composing, Literature, Poetry, Promotion of education, Promotion of literacy, Education Reforms etc.)
  • Civil Service (includes distinction/excellence in administration etc. by Government Servants)
  • Sports (includes popular Sports, Athletics, Adventure, Mountaineering, promotion of sports, Yoga etc.)
  • wildlife (fields not covered above and may include propagation of Indian Culture, protection of Human Rights, Wildlife protection/conservation etc.)

Can it be conferred posthumously?

  • The award is normally not conferred posthumously.
  • However, in highly deserving cases, the Government could consider giving an award posthumously.

Can a candidate win the award more than once?

  • A higher category of Padma award can be conferred on a person only where a period of at least five years has elapsed since the conferment of the earlier Padma award.
  • However, in highly deserving cases, a relaxation can be made by the Awards Committee.

Who presents the awards?

  • The awards are presented by the President of India usually in the month of March/April every year.
  • The awardees are presented a Sanad (certificate) signed by the President and a medallion.
  • The recipients are also given a small replica of the medallion, which they can wear during any ceremonial/State functions etc., if the awardees so desire.
  • The names of the awardees are published in the Gazette of India on the day of the presentation ceremony.
Note: The award does not amount to a title and cannot be used as a suffix or prefix to the awardees’ name - Article 18(a).
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