Frequent incidents of disturbance during address by Governor to joint session of Legislatures including the one which occurred recently in Karnataka, points out that it is because of the practice of making the Governors to read the statement of policies and programmes of the ruling party, the impatient opposition causes obstruction to Governor’s address leading to ugly incidents. This wrong procedure requires to be modified and the address of the Governors should be confined to inaugurate the session referring to the policies and programmes of the Government to be placed before the table of the house followed by unanimous resolution thanking the Governor. Similar procedure is also appropriate regarding the President’s address to the Parliament. This procedure would be not only in conformity with constitutional provisions but also in conformity with the dignity and decorum required on such solemn occasion.
Article 52 of the Constitution provides that there shall be a President of India. Article 79 provides that there shall be a Parliament for the Union which shall consist of the President and the two houses namely the Council of States and the House of the People. Article 87 makes President’s address to both houses of Parliament at the first session of Parliament after general elections and at first session each year mandatory. However, all that it requires is that while addressing both the Houses of Parliament, the President should inform the Parliament of the causes of its summoning. Clause (2) of Article 87 however provides that provision shall be made in the rules of business regulating the procedure of either house of Parliament and time shall be allotted for discussion of the matter referred to in such address.
But it has become the practice that at the joint session of the two houses of Parliament the President’s address is prepared by the Council of Ministers incorporating therein the policies and programmes of the Government of the day and after the President delivers his/her address and leaves the Parliament. The address of the President is required to be placed before each of the house namely the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) and the House of the People (Lok Sabha). Thereafter, the leader of the House or a member authorised by him moves a resolution for thanking the President for delivering his address.
The form of motion of thanks which is formulated and is being followed reads: “That an Address be presented to the President in the following terms: “That the members of Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha assembled in this session are deeply grateful to the President for the Address which he has been pleased to deliver to both the Houses of Parliament assembled together on.”
Simultaneously another practice which has developed is that the opposition moves amendments to the motion thanking the President and for his address stating that President has failed to mention any important matter as considered by the Member who moves the amendment or that it contains matters which should not have been there. The form of amendment which is also formulated and is being used, reads: “That at the end of the motion, the following be added, namely: ‘but regret that there is no mention in the Address about the … Or ‘and express the hope that certain matters not found in the address be taken care of, etc.”
As a matter of practice, hundreds of amendments expressing regret are being made by the opposition. After a few days of debate on the motion and the amendments, the motion thanking the President for his address is passed by each of the Houses with or without amendments and communicated to the President.
The question is what is truth as to the contents of the address of the President to the joint session of Parliament. On this important aspect we have the most authoritative statement made by the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He said thus: “The President’s address is a statement of policy of the Government. It should be remembered, it is the Government that is responsible for it and it is not right or proper for our respected President’s name to be brought in debates like this. If the President’s Address has anything wrong in it or objectionable in it, it is the Government to blame not the President, and it is open to the Hon. Members to criticise or condemn Government, not the President (LS Deb. 22-2-1960, c. 2105). (Parliamentary Procedures by Subhash C Kashyap, pp-153)
From the clear and unambiguous statement of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the factual position regarding the nature of the address of the President explained above, it is clear that the so-called address of the President is nothing but a statement of the policies and programmes of the Government in office which is placed before the Parliament because the Executive is responsible for the Legislature which is an element of the basic structure of our democratic system.
President not to be made spokesman of the Government
It is not only the right of every legislator but also his duty either to support or criticise the policies or programmes of the Government and even bring amendments to such policies or programmes for consideration. Therefore, incorporating the policies and programmes of the present day Government in the address of the President is not appropriate as it tantamounts to making the President as the spokesman of the executive/council of ministers. Further, making the address of the President the object of criticism and subjecting it to innumerable amendments in the form of expressing regret to the motion of thanks appears to be neither warranted by the Constitutional provisions nor desirable having due regard to the highest position and status given to the President under the Constitution.
Further, as clearly stated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru that so-called address of the President is nothing but incorporating the policies and programmes of the present day Government, it would be sufficient for the President to inform the house that the session of the Parliament is convened to transact the business entrusted to it under the Constitution with reference to the policies and programmes of the Government tabled in each of the House and inaugurate the Session. Once that is done, the discussion of matters referred to in the address of the President namely the policies and programmes of the Government as required under clause (2) of Article 87 stands complied with.
Motion of thanks should be unanimous
As far as the motion of thanking the President is concerned, it would be appropriate that immediately after the President inaugurates the joint session and delivers his short address, unanimous resolution should be passed then and there, which would be in conformity with dignity and honour of the President.
It is high time that all persons concerned should consider this aspect to bring about a change on the above lines so that the motion of thanks to the address of the President is not made subject to so many amendments by way of regret which is not in good taste.
The fact that the practice is in vogue for a few decades should not deter us from changing it so as to bring it in terms of the letter and spirit of the Constitutional provisions. In the matter of correcting such wrong interpretations, weighty words of Justice Ratnavel Pandian in support of revising an earlier wrong interpretation by the Supreme Court, in the case of SC Advocates On Record Association Vs. Union of India [1993 (4) SCC 441] at para 19 are worth quoting. “I speak but once” in the sense that we declare the law once but never for many moons to come, can never serve as a good policy at all times in the field of construction of law… Indeed, no historic precedent and long-term practice can supply a rule of unalterable decision.”
Nature of address – source of trouble
It is because of the policies, programmes and achievements as claimed by the ruling party are all incorporated in the address prepared by the ruling party for the address of the President and Governors, many times impatient opposition instead of waiting to express their views in the ensuing debate raise hue and cry then and there. There have been number of instances quoted at page 148, 149 and 150 of the book Parliament Procedures by Subhash C Kashyap, in which the prominent members of the opposition had caused obstruction during the address of the President whose conduct was disapproved by the House. Such instances of causing obstruction and shouting throughout the period during which the Governor renders his address are innumerable and are of frequent occurrence in most of the States in that while Governors would be reading their address, member of opposition go on shouting till the completion of the address.
Article 87, which provides for the address of the President to the joint session of the Parliament and Article 176, which provides for the address of the Governor to the joint session of the Legislature are similarly worded. Therefore, instead of making the Governor to read the address prepared by the Council of Ministers incorporating the policies and programmes of the Government and their achievement, it would be sufficient for the Governor to make an address on the following lines: “This session of the legislature has been convened in terms of clause (1) of Article 176 and I hereby inaugurate the session and declare it open and direct the legislature to debate on the policies and programmes of the Government tabled on each of the house in terms of clause (2) of Article 176.”
After the Governor makes his inaugural address, an unanimous resolution by the legislature thanking the Governor for inaugurating the session should be passed then and there. After the ceremonial function concludes with National Anthem, the legislative assembly and/or the legislative council in States where there are two houses could meet separately and undertake discussion of the policies and programmes of the Government placed before it by the Chief Minister in terms of clause (2) of Article 176. There should be no question of expressing regret by the opposition.
If the changes as suggested in this article are brought about, it would be befitting the solemn occasion of commencement of the session of Parliament/Legislature by the inaugural address of the President or the Governor as the case may be and would be in conformity with the decorum, dignity and respect due to the two gubernatorial offices and avoid unsavory incidents on the floor of the House.