Governor of Tamil Nadu, R N Ravi, skipped certain portions of the text of his customary address to the state’s legislature. As a result, the Chief Minister of the state, M K Stalin, moved a resolution demanding only the original printed speech in Tamil be put in records. Governor R N Ravi reacted to this in an unprecedented manner by staging a walkout from the House in protest even before the national anthem was played.

 

Background

  • The Constitution gives the President (Article 87) and the Governor (Article 176) the power to address a sitting of the legislature.
  • The special power is with regard to two occasions —
      • The first is to address the opening session of a new legislature after a general election.
      • The second is to address the first sitting of the legislature each year.
  • Commonly referred to as the President’s or Governor’s Address, they are a constitutional requirement.
  • A session of a new or a continuing legislature cannot begin without fulfilling this requirement.

 

Governor’s Address to the State Legislature

Article 176 of the Constitution –

  • At the commencement of the first session after each general election to the Legislative Assembly and at the commencement of the first session of each year, the Governor shall address the Legislative Assembly and inform the Legislature of the causes of its summons.
      • In the case of a State having a Legislative Council, both Houses assembled together.
  • Provision shall be made by the rules regulating the procedure of the House or either House for the allotment of time for discussion of the matters referred to in such address.

 

Are there parallels in other countries?

  • Similar provisions exist in other democracies.
      • In the United States, it is referred to as the “State of the Union”.
      • In the United Kingdom, it is referred to as the Queen’s Speech and is part of the ceremony to mark the formal start of the parliamentary year.
  • The President’s Address in India is mirrored on the British system.
  • During the framing of the Constitution, Dr B R Ambedkar drew a similarity between the President and the monarch under the English system.
    • He said –- the President “is the Head of State but not of the executive. He represents the nation but does not rule the nation. He is the symbol of the nation. His place in the administration is that of a ceremonial device of a seal by which the nation’s decisions are made known”.

 

What does the Address contain?

  • The President’s/Governor’s speech follows the convention of the British system, where it contains legislative and policy proposals that the government intends to initiate.
  • The speech also recaps the government’s accomplishment in the previous years.
  • The contents of the speech are put together by aggregating inputs from various ministries of the government.

 

Is the Address prepared by the President/Governor themselves?

  • The Constitution, under Article 74 and Article 163 respectively, binds the President and the Governor to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers of the Union and state governments respectively, on a majority of issues.
  • Therefore, the speech that the President or the Governor reads before the legislature is the viewpoint of the government and is prepared by it.

 

If the President/Governor disagrees with the text of the speech, are they still bound to read it?

  • The President or a Governor cannot refuse to perform the constitutional duty of delivering an address to the legislature.
  • But there can be situations when they deviate from the text of the speech prepared by the government.
  • So far, there have been no instances of President doing so. But there have been multiple occasions when a Governor skipped a portion of the address to the Assembly.

 

Does such an omission, as happened recently in Tamil Nadu, violate any constitutional convention?

  • The debate has not been conclusively decided.
      • In Shamsher Singh v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court said that the principle that the President (or the Governor) is guided by the aid and advice of the Cabinet covered every function. Whether it relates to addressing the House or returning a Bill for reconsideration, or assenting or withholding assent.
  • Many experts believe that it was the intention of the Constitution-makers that the Governor’s speech would be prepared by the Council of Ministers and the Governor would read it.
  • Hence, they are of the opinion that if a Governor violates this convention and deletes any para of the address under the cloak of his discretionary power, his action may not be unlawful’ from a rigid legalistic viewpoint.
  • However, this will surely strike at the roots of the norms of parliamentary system of government.