Article 18 of the Indian Constitution i.e- “Abolition of titles” 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 for they are incentive to further efforts in the perfection of the military power of the State so necessary for its existence and for the scientific endeavors so necessary for its prosperity. Clause (2) prohibits a citizen of India from accepting any title from any foreign State. Clause (3) provides that a foreigner holding any office of profit or trust under the State cannot accept any title from any foreign State without the consent of the President. This is to ensure loyalty to the Government he serves for the time being and to shut out all foreign influence in Government affairs or administration. Clause (4) provides that no person holding any office or trait under the State shall accept, without the consent of the President any present, emolument or office of any kind from or under any foreign State.
The conferring of the titles of “Bharat Ratna”, “Padma Vibhushan”, “Padma Shri” etc, are not prohibited under Article 18 as they merely denote State recognition of good work by citizens in the various fields of activity. These awards seem to fit within the category of “academic distinctions”. These national awards are given on the Republic Day in recognition of exceptional and distinguished services of the high integrity in any field.
These National Awards were formally instituted in January 1954 by two Presidential Notifications. These Presidential Notifications also provide that any person without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex, shall be eligible for these awards and also that the decorations may be awarded posthumously. It was also made very clear that these civilian awards cannot be used as titles and should not be attached as suffixes or prefixes to the names of the awards. In 1977 these awards were discontinued but were again revived finally in 1980. Since then, these National Awards are conferred annually on the Republic Day.
In Balaji Raghavan v Union of India , the petitioners challenged the validity of these National Awards and requested the Court to prevent the Government of India from conferring these Awards. It was contended that the National Awards are titles within the meaning of Article 18 of the Indian Constitution. It was also argued that these awards are being grossly misused and the purpose for which they were instituted has been diluted and they are granted to persons who are undeserving of them.
The Supreme Court held that the National Awards such as Bharat Ratna, Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri are not violative of the principle of equality as guaranteed by the provisions of the Indian Constitution. These National Awards do not amount to “titles” within the meaning of Article 18 and, therefore, not violative of Article 18 of the Constitution. The theory of equality does not mandate that merit should not be recognised. Article 51-A of the Constitution speaks of the fundamental duties of every citizen of India. In view of clause (f) of Article 51-A it is necessary that there should be a system of award and decorations to recognise excellence in performance of the duties.
However, the Court criticized the Government for its “failure” to exercise sufficient restraint in the confirment of these National Awards. The Court said that the guidelines contained in the communiqué from the Ministry of Home Affairs towards the selection of probable recipients are extremely, wide, imprecise, amenable to abuse and wholly unsatisfactory for the important objective that they seem to achieve.
Justice Kuldip Singh in his separate but concurring judgement make a scathing attack in, what he called non-application of mind by successive governments in granting the “Padma Awards”. It has already reached a point where political or narrow group interests are being rewarded by those in office for the time being.
The Court suggested that a high-level committee may be appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the President of India to look into the matter. The Judges made it clear that the committee may keep in view Court’s anxiety that the number of awards should not be so large as to dilute their value.
It is also to be noted that there is absolutely no penalty for infringement of the above prohibition of titles. Article 18 is merely directory. However, it is iron to the Parliament to make laws for dealing with such persons who accept a title in violation of the prohibition prescribed in the Article 18. No such law has been passed by the Parliament so far.
 (1996) 1 SCC 361.