The award was established on 2 January 1954 by the president of India. It is awarded to recognize distinguished service of a high order to the nation, in any field. As of December 2016, 1249 people have thus far received the award.
Although the Padma awards, including the Padma Vibhushan, are the highest civilian awards in India and those selected for the award are famous for their contribution to Indian social, cultural, economic, political or other spheres of life, several noted public figures have refused the award on various grounds. In 2013 the veteran playback singer Mrs. S. Janaki rejected the award, stating that the honour came to her too late and that the artists of South India were not duly recognised. The eminent jurist and former Chief Justice of India J. S. Verma was awarded the Padma Bhushan posthumously in 2014. His family refused to accept the award as they believed Justice Verma in principle "was never a man to yearn or lobby for any acclaim, reward or favour."
Pushpa Mittra Bhargava received the Padma Bhushan from the President of India in 1986, but returned it in 2015 citing a "climate of intolerance" and "the ways in which science and reason was getting eroded in the country".