Special address of Governor: Constitutional history

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    In News 

    • Tamil Nadu Governor walked out of the Tamil Nadu Assembly when CM Stalin interrupted the governor’s speech after the former had omitted a few words from his govt-prepared  special address.

    About the  Special address

    • Both in the U.K. and in India, it is a time-honoured constitutional convention that the King or the President or the Governor must read out the exact text of the speech or special address which informs the nation or the State of the policies that an elected government intends to pursue.
    • Neither House of Parliament can proceed with any public business in any further session unless it is opened either by the King himself or by Lord’s Commissioners acting on his behalf. 
    • The King’s speech is thus the formal beginning of each new session of Parliament and states the government’s policy and the intended programme of business for the forthcoming session.
      • There has never been an incident of the monarch in the U.K. departing from the official text of his speech. 

    Adoption In India 

    •   As India adopted the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, the Constituent Assembly decided, on May 18, 1949, to adopt this practice. 
    • Article 87 of the Indian Constitution requires the President to make a special address to both Houses of Parliament assembled on the commencement of the first session of each year
      • The President has to inform Parliament of the causes of its summons. 
    • Article 176 requires the Governor to make a special address at the first session of each year of every State Legislative Assembly and to both Houses wherever the State also has a Legislative Council. 
      • The language of these provisions was borrowed from the rules of the House of Commons.

    Controversies 

    • The Governor of Tamil Nadu, R.N. Ravi, made constitutional history in the State by omitting certain paragraphs and departing from the official text of his special address at the opening of the Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu for 2023.
    • This is not the first time that a governor has refused to read the address sent by the Government. 
      • In 1967, Rajasthan Governor Sampuranand did it. 
    • It is disturbing that serious breaches of constitutional conventions continue to be made by Governors in States ruled by Opposition parties
      • Article 361 of the Constitution gives the Governor complete immunity from any legal action because our founding fathers hoped that Governors would maintain the highest standards of rectitude and propriety.
    • A later governor of West Bengal, Dharma Vira, too had skipped certain portions of the speech sent to him by the government, particularly the portion dealing with his dismissal of the first United Front Government in Bengal.
      • The Calcutta High Court had by then upheld the governor’s decision and termed the dismissal as constitutional. 

    Views of Lawmakers 

    • Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking in the Lok Sabha in 1960, stated that the President’s address is nothing but a statement of policy of the government. 
      • He observed: “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 Members to criticise or condemn government because there is some such statement in it which they disapprove of”.
    • During the Constituent Assembly debates, Professor K.T. Shah proposed an amendment to Article 87 giving discretion to the President to also make an address on “other particular issues of policy he deems suitable for such address”.
    • This amendment was rejected as B.R. Ambedkar pointed out that the President, under Article 86, had the right to address either House or both Houses of Parliament together and Parliament had to assemble for this purpose. 
    • Similar power was given to the Governor under Article 175. 
      • Thus, when there is an independent power provided under Article 175, it is a serious impropriety for any Governor (or even the President) to omit several paragraphs from the speech prepared by the incumbent government.

    Observations of Court’s 

    • The Calcutta High Court, while interpreting this article in Syed Abdul Mansur Habibullah v. The Speaker, West Bengal Legislative Assembly (1966), held that the special address is not an idle or ceremonial formality.
      •  It keeps the members informed about the executive policies and legislative programme of the State government. 
    • The High Court further observed that the non-delivery of the special address hampers legislative debates and budgetary criticisms.
      • The HC held that when the governor fails to deliver his address under Article 176 and walks out of the House after laying down the address on the table of the House, this is mere irregularity, not illegality. 
    • The Supreme Court has held that constitutional conventions are as much a part of the Constitution as its written text. And it is well-settled that constitutional morality consists of not only adherence to the written text of the Constitution but also to constitutional conventions.
      • These conventions fill the interstices of a written Constitution and enable effective coordination between the legislature, executive and the judiciary.
    • In Yogender Singh Handa v. State of Rajasthan (1967), the Rajasthan High Court held that some portion read by the governor was good enough to deem the whole address as read.

    Conclusion and Way Forward 

    • The special address of the Governor is an important constitutional duty, which is performed with the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers with the Chief Minister at the head. 
    • The constitutional role of the Governor is that of an elder statesman who brings a sense of gravitas to this high office, and by his oath, must preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law. 
    • The residents of Raj Bhavans are expected to be above party politics and should not hamper the functioning of a duly elected State government.
    •  It is a tribute to our Constitution that it continues to be the steel frame of India’s republican democracy and has survived for over 70 years.
    • Both governors and chief ministers, as constitutional functionaries, should respect each other and at least have a working relationship.

    Mains Practice Question 

    [Q] Discuss the importance and Controversies related to the Special address by the Governor.