Sports Minister M S Gill on Thursday flayed the 'casualness' of India's cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh for skipping the Padma Shri function and said the Ministry would soon issue a circular to ensure sportspersons treat national awards with utmost respect.
Dhoni and his India teammate Harbhajan were conspicuous by their absence at the Rashtrapati Bhavan ceremony, where they were expected to receive the Padma Shri from President Pratibha Patil.
Even though reports claimed the duo gave it a miss because of commercial pre-occupations, Harbhajan cited family commitment as the reason for skipping the awards function.
The Sports Minister, however, was not convinced and even though he refused to name the duo, said he would not brook such casualness by anyone.
"To be selected for such a national honour and then getting the opportunity of receiving it from the President of India is rare good fortune and must be treated with greatest respect. I certainly don't approve of any casualness in anyone's approach," Gill said.
And to ensure it does not happen again, the Ministry would issue a new circular soon, he said.
"We will soon issue a new circular for public information and send a copy to the Home Ministry, which would inform sportspersons about our policy to ensure that the players don't treat national awards with such casualness," Gill said.
He also lashed out at the practice of sending "substitutes" to the investiture ceremony and said such a thing is unthinkable in countries like England.
"As the Sports Minister, I was involved with national sports awards last year where the President gave away Arjuna, Dronacharya, Dhyan Chand and Tenzing Norgay awards. I was very surprised to see that a number of sportspersons sent substitutes to the ceremony. For me, this is totally unacceptable.
"Nobody in England can think about sending a substitute to the Queen in the annual award ceremony. I remember how Ian Botham received his Knighthood with all due respect for the Queen," Gill said.
He said it was also a clear violation of the Sports Ministry's instruction to either personally receive the award or, in case of unavoidable reasons, send a letter of apology well before the event.
"After last year's sport awards, I held a meeting and issued a firm direction to all the federation and sport bodies that from now onwards, all sportspersons must receive his or her in person and would not be allowed to send substitutes to the President", Gill said.
"And if there are any genuine reasons prevent them from turning up, they must send an apology in advance so that at a later date the Sports Minister can give them the award," he added.