Guwahati: Assam’s Nayanmoni Saikia woke up to an unexpected surprise by finding herself among the 25 recommended names that includes the likes of world champion boxer Nikhat Zareen and chess prodigy Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, among others for this year’s prestigious Arjuna Award.

The selection committee headed by Justice (retd) AM Khanwilkar has recommended veteran Table Tennis star Achanta Sharath Kamal for the prestigious Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award. Kamal, 40, is the second paddler to be awarded the highest sporting honour after Manika Batra bagged it in 2020.

An ageless warrior, Kamal returned with three golds and one silver medal from the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. In 2018, he won a bronze medal in the mixed team event with Manika at the 2018 Asian Games.

Significantly, maintaining the sanctity of the Khel Ratna award, the 12-member committee this year, chose to do away with last year’s trend that witnessed an unprecedented 12 athletes being honoured with the country’s top sporting award, and picked Kamal among the 42 aspirants.

However, the committee decided to nominate two dope-tainted athletes, in Asian Games gold medallist boxer Amit Panghal and veteran discus thrower Seema Punia for the Arjuna award. The duo were previously reprimanded for doping offences, early in their careers.

This is the second such instance after para athlete Sharad Kumar was awarded the Arjuna in 2021. Kumar, who served a two-year ban for doping in 2012, bagged the award after winning a bronze in men’s T-63 high jump at the Tokyo Paralympics.

As per the revised view of the government, sportspersons who have been suspended, banned for doping offences would also be considered for the awards, after the completion of their sentence.

Meanwhile, Nayanmoni, who was part of the historic gold-medal winning women’s Lawn Bowls team at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, is the only Assamese to find a place in the list. Among others from the North East, Manipuri judoka Sushila Devi also found herself recommended for the coveted award.

“Oh is it? Do you have any information on that?” asked Nayanmoni, when she was approached on the phone this morning by EastMojo.

When this reporter confirmed the newly-appointed DSP of Assam Police, of the news, an elated Nayanmoni replied, “Thank you…that’s some news to start the weekend. This is such good news, that it will take a while to sink in.”

A hosts of 2022 Commonwealth Games medallists led by 3000m steeplechase champion Avinash Sable, men’s triple jump gold medallist Eldhose Paul, men’s singles badminton champion Lakshya Sen, mixed doubles gold medallist paddler Sreeja Akula and silver medal-winning grappler Anshu Malik, are among the big names nominated for the Arjuna award.

Usually, the sports awards are presented by the President on National Sports Day, August 29, the birthday of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand. However, exceptions are made for the years which feature the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

As per the latest enhancement, the Khel Ratna award carries a cash purse of Rs 25 lakh, Arjuna award Rs 15 lakh, Dronacharya awards Rs 10 lakh for regular, and Rs 15 lakh for life-time achievement. The separate lifetime achievement award also carries Rs 10 lakh cash prize.

For the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad trophy for the best University, the period for sports achievements will be from April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022.

Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award recommendation: Achanta Sharath Kamal

Arjuna Award recommendations: Seema Punia (athletics), Eldhose Paul (athletics), Avinash Sable (athletics), Lakshya Sen (badminton), HS Prannoy (badminton), Amit Panghal (boxing), Nikhat Zareen (boxing), Bhakti Kulkarni (chess), R Praggnanandha (chess), Deep Grace Ekka (hockey), Shushila Devi (judo), Sakshi Kumari (kabaddi), Nayan Moni Saikia (lawn bowls), Sagar Ovhalkar (mallakhamb), Elavenil Valarivan (shooting), Om Prakash Mitharval (shooting), Sreeja Akula (table tennis), Vikas Thakur (weightlifting), Anshu Malik (wrestling), Sarita Mor (wrestling), Parveen (wushu), Manashi Joshi (para badminton), Tarun Dhillon (para badminton), Swapnil Patil (para swimming), Jerlin Anika J (deaf badminton)

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