There cannot be guidelines for returning the Sahitya Akademi awards as the akademi’s constitution did not provide for taking back any award, said the Delhi High Court Monday quashing a PIL which sought directions to the Centre to formulate rules in the event of a recipient returning the award.
According to the PIL, the award by the Sahitya Akademi — an autonomous body under the aegis of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture — was given to authors of “outstanding publications” for the preceding three years. It comprises a citation and a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh. Claiming rising intolerance in the country, several writers had returned the prestigious awards in 2015.
The plea added that “returning the awards tarnished the country’s image” and as the award was a “national honour, it had to be protected just like the sanctity of national symbols such as the national flag or emblem”. “The Centre, too, had issued no guidelines in case of the awards being returned. If the awards were returned, the awardee could forego a part of royalties or other earnings, which might have accrued to him/her after the felicitation,” the PIL said.
In its counter-affidavit, the Centre said the Sahitya Akademi stood for freedom of expression of all writers irrespective of caste, colour, creed and nationality. In the Akademi’s executive board meeting on December 17, 2015, a resolution was passed saying it had “noted with grief” the messages from writers.
While the akademi “appreciated and understood” the “sentiments” of these writers, there was no provision in its constitution to take back the awards. The process of selecting the awardees involved “careful decision from people ranging from eminent critics to the common man”. The board had said, “… All momentary differences notwithstanding, all writers of the country would be able to work together to further realise the spirit of the founding fathers of the akademi.”
Underlining the Akademi’s constitution, the Centre’s counsel said formulating guidelines for returning of awards was not required. Dismissing the petition, the bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal and said “… The issue raised… deserves no further consideration”.