The Foundation’s role in the actual process of selection for the Samman is very limited; it is confined mainly in providing secretarial assistance. The responsibility for selection is that of a Chayan Parishad constituted under the Saraswati Samman Niyamavali. The Parishad works under the chairmanship of Shri G.B. Patnaik, the former Chief Justice of India includes outstanding scholars and writers of different languages. The Parishad is assisted by 5 Kshetra Samities and 22 Bhasha Samities.
The process starts with a general invitation to a large number of literary organisations, universities, scholars, teachers and discerning readers for proposals. These proposals are referred to the respective Bhasha Samities, which are free to consider any other eligible work, even though not proposed. There is a separate Bhasha Samiti for each language. It has 3 members and one of them acts as its convenor. To ensure both continuity and change at least one member is ordinarily replaced every year. The Members of these Samities are well known scholars, writers, critics etc.. Each Bhasha Samiti is required to submit a detailed report in three parts, as provided in the Saraswati Samman Niyamavali.
In the second phase the recommendations of the various Bhasha Samities are examined in detail by the respective Kshetra Samities. The Kshetra Samities are organised as follows.
• East : Assamese, Bengali, Manipuri, Maithili and Oriya.
• East II : Bodo, Nepali and Santhali
• North : Hindi, Dogri, Kashmiri, Punjabi and Urdu.
• West : Gujarati, Konkani, Marathi and Sindhi.
• South : Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu.
(Sanskrit is not permanently included in any Kshetra Samiti but by rotation is included in a different Kshetra Samiti every year).
A Kshetra Samiti is composed of the convenors of the related Bhasha Samities and is presided over by a member of the Chayan Parishad nominated by the Chairman. The Kshetra Samities thus provide the first multilingual mechanism for a comparative assessment of the literary works in different languages. This comparative assessment has been appropriately emphasized by the importance given to the functioning of a Kshetra Samiti in the scheme of selection. A Kshetra Samiti formulates its recommendation after considering the reports of the Bhasha Samities falling with in its jurisdiction. It is free to consider any eligible work even when it has not been recommended by any Bhasha Samiti. Subsequently the convenors of the Bhasha Samites (they all are members of their respective Kshetra Samities) are informed about the decisions of the other Kshetra Samites and are required to express their views on the books recommended by 5 Kshetra Samities and indicate their choice. The detailed assessments by the Kshetra Samities collectively and subsequently by its members individually have proved to be very useful. A very happy aspect is that the members of the Kshetra Samities have not been acting mainly as the representatives of their respective languages but, rising above that level, as scholars and critics of Indian literature. The final comparative assessment and once again a very detailed one is made by the Chayan Parishad. The Chayan Parishad and the Samities at the two lower levels are not bound by the proposals and the recommendations submitted to them but are free to consider other eligible works also.
This 3-tier process of selection is fully integrated from top to bottom. The convenors/representatives of the Bhasha Samities constitute the Kshetra Samities and two of them by rotation also serve as members of the Chayan Parishad for a year along with 8 other ‘long term’ members. Further, atleast 5 members of the highest decision taking body i.e. the Chayan Parishad participate actively at the Kshetra Samiti level. In all more than 80 eminent scholars of the country actively participate in the process of selection and the work which is finally selected for the Samman under goes a close scrutiny by more than 40 scholars at various levels. In order to assist these persons adequate translations of works, reviews, critical writings relating to works under consideration etc. are provided to them.
The elaborate and intense process ensures that the criteria or fairness, objectivity and impartiality are strictly adhered to as far as humanly possible. No other literary award of such a high monetary value (Rs. 5 lakhs) has such an elaborate, meticulous and intense system of selection.