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Govt must treat Rashtrapati Bhavan with respect
February 06, 2007
Mr Desai interrupted me at this point, asking me whether I meant that Justice K T Thomas figured in the list. I assured him I meant exactly that, on which he explained that the Mumbai newspapers had evidently published an incomplete list.
Having cut my teeth in journalism, with the Indian Express in Bombay (as the city was all those decades ago), I thought this was a bit strange. I know that the Mumbai papers pride themselves on getting the news out from Delhi just as quickly as the capital's own journals. So why didn't they mention Justice Thomas along with the other legal luminaries?
It turns out that the fault lay with the Government of India. For some weird reason, the list of national honours was released at the unearthly hour of 12:30 am, and it was botched up even so. Where the list normally offers a hint or two as to the profession of the man or woman being honoured, the citation against Justice Thomas's name simply read 'public service'. There was no mention of his long and distinguished career, culminating in the Supreme Court.
'Public service' is, these days at any rate, a euphemism for 'politics'. If you read that against someone's name, without any other qualification attached, a harassed newsdesk will invariably pass it off as some obscure politician and bury his name. And when it is well past midnight nobody has the time to scan roughly 130 names to see what service each rendered; the presses need to roll after all!
Technically, the list cannot be released without the formal consent of the President. But it is certainly not Professor Abdul Kalam's fault if ministers forget to send the list to Rashtrapati Bhavan until 8:30 pm! First, they were supposed to send it up at least 24 hours earlier.
Second, everyone in Delhi knows that the President has certain duties on January 25 -- namely recording his annual address to the nation and hosting a dinner for the head of State who shall be the chief guest at the parade the next morning. The file obviously had to wait until President Putin left the official banquet.
This, if I remember correctly, was the stand taken by Morarji Desai back when he was the prime minister. Alternatively, it could have taken the exercise seriously, perhaps even consulting the President. With all due respect to our Union HRD ministry, I am sure Professor Abdul Kalam is far more closely in touch with the educational and scientific communities.
T V R Shenoy