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The Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters, is an organisation dedicated to the promotion of literature in the languages of India.[1] Founded on 12 March 1954, it is supported by, though independent of, the Indian government. Its office is located in Rabindra Bhavan near Mandi House in Delhi.

The Sahitya Akademi organises national and regional workshops and seminars; provides research and travel grants to authors; publishes books and journals, including the Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature; and presents the annual Sahitya Akademi Award of Rs. 100,000 (approx. USD 1,500 (in year 2013)) in each of the 24 languages it supports, as well as the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship for lifetime achievement.

The Sahitya Akademi Library is one of the largest multi-lingual libraries in India, with a rich collection of books on literature and allied subjects.

It publishes two bimonthly literary journals: Indian Literature in English and Samkaleen Bharatiya Sahitya in Hindi.[1][2]

A key concern in the early days of the Sahitya Akademi was the establishment of its autonomy from the Central Government. This concern was echoed by the Prime Minister, who noted that, "...it is an honour to be the President of an organisation which includes it in its fold the eminent writers of India in various languages. As President of that Akademi I may tell you quite frankly, I would not like the Prime Minister to interfere in my work."[4] The first Council made recommendations to amend the Akademi's governing constitution, including proposals to have the chairman elected by the Council and not appointed by the Government.[5] Some of these suggestions were incorporated, and the Akademi was constituted as a society under the Societies Registration Act of 1860, as it had not originally been incorporated by an Act of Parliament, but by an executive order.The first General Council of the Akademi included members such as S. Radhakrishnan, Abul Kalam Azad, C. Rajagopalachari, K.M. Panikkar, K.M. Munshi, Zakir Hussain, Umashankar Joshi, Mahadevi Varma, D. V. Gundappa, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, and was presided over by the then-Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.[3] The Government of India clarified that the choice of Prime Minister Nehru as the first chairperson was "not because he is Prime Minister, but because he has carved out for himself a distinctive place as a writer and author."[3]

The Sahitya Akademi was formally inaugurated on 12 March 1954 in New Delhi. A ceremony was held in the Indian Parliament's Central Hall, with speeches by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and S. Radhakrishnan. S. Radhakrishnan elaborated on the purpose of the Sahitya Akademi in his speech, noting that,

"The phrase, Sahitya Akademi, combines two words. 'Sahitya' is Sanskrit, and 'Academy' is Greek. This name suggests our universal outlook and aspiration. Sahitya is a literary composition; Academy is an assembly of men who are interested in the subject. So Sahitya Akademi will be an assembly of all those who are interested in creative and critical literature. It is the purpose of this Akademi to recognise men of achievement in letters, to encourage men of promise in letters, to educate public taste and to improve standards of literature and literary criticism."[3]

A key concern in the early days of the Sahitya Akademi was the establishment of its autonomy from the Central Government. This concern was echoed by the Prime Minister, who noted that, "...it is an honour to be the President of an organisation which includes it in its fold the eminent writers of India in various languages. As President of that Akademi I may tell you quite frankly, I would not like the Prime Minister to interfere in my work."[4] The first Council made recommendations to amend the Akademi's governing constitution, including proposals to have the chairman elected by the Council and not appointed by the Government.[5] Some of these suggestions were incorporated, and the Akademi was constituted as a society under the Societies Registration Act of 1860, as it had not originally been incorporated by an Act of Parliament, but by an executive order.[5] The Council was reconstituted and elected Prime Minister Nehru as its president, and he continued in that capacity until his death in 1964.[5]

Subsequent

Subsequent presidents of the Sahitya Akademi have included S. Radhakrishnan (1958) who succeeded Jawaharlal Nehru after serving as the Vice-President along with him; Zakir Hussain (1963); Suniti Kumar Chatterjee (1967); K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar (1969, and re-elected in 1973); Umashankar Joshi (1978); Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya (1983); U. R. Ananthamurthy (1993); Ramakanta Rath (1998); and Gopi Chand Narang (2003).[6] Sunil Gangopadhyay was elected president in 2008,[7] and held office until his death in 2012.[8] The current president is Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari. The Akademi has never elected a female president although, in 2003, Mahasweta Devi unsuccessfully contested Gopi Chand Narang for the position.[6]

The Sahitya Akademi was constituted by the Government of India by a resolution passed on 15 December 1952.[9] It was formally inaugurated on 12 March 1954.[10] It initially functioned under executive order, but was subsequently registered as a society under the Indian Societies Registration Act, 1860.[10] The constitution of the Sahitya Akademi provides that it shall be run by three authorities — a General Council, an Executive Board, and a Finance Committee.[11]

The General Council is empowered to elect a president and vice-president, from a panel of three candidates chosen by the Executive Board.[12] In addition to these, the Executive Board appoints a secretary, who functions as both the Secretary of the Akademi and as ex-officio secretary of all three governing bodies.[12]

General Council

The General Council of the Sahitya Akademi operates for a term of five years, following which it is reconstituted. It meets once a year and performs several important functions, including appointing the Akademi's president and vice-president, electing members of the Executive Board, framing rules and procedures for the Akademi, and electing fellows on the recommendation of the Board.[13

The General Council is empowered to elect a president and vice-president, from a panel of three candidates chosen by the Executive Board.[12] In addition to these, the Executive Board appoints a secretary, who functions as both the Secretary of the Akademi and as ex-officio secretary of all three governing bodies.[12]

The General Council of the Sahitya Akademi operates for a term of five years, following which it is reconstituted. It meets once a year and performs several important functions, including appointing the Akademi's president and vice-president, electing members of the Executive Board, framing rules and procedures for the Akademi, and electing fellows on the recommendation of the Board.[13]

The General Council consists of the following members:[14]