Special address of Governor: Constitutional history
Tags: GS 2:Parliament & State Legislatures
• The Tamil Nadu Governor left the Tamil Nadu Assembly when CM Stalin interrupted his speech for omitting a few words from his government-prepared special address.
Regarding the Special address
• It is a time-honored constitutional convention in both the United Kingdom and India that the King, the President, or the Governor must read aloud the exact text of the speech or special address informing the nation or the state of the policies an elected government intends to pursue.
o Neither House of Parliament may conduct any public business in future sessions unless the session is opened by the King or Lord’s Commissioners acting on his behalf.
o The King’s speech thus marks the official beginning of each new session of Parliament and outlines the government’s policy and the agenda for the upcoming session.
There has never been an instance in which the British monarch deviated from the official text of his speech.
Adoption Throughout India
• As India adopted the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy on May 18, 1949, the Constituent Assembly decided to follow suit.
•Article 87 of the Indian Constitution mandates that the President deliver a special address to both Houses of Parliament at the beginning of each year’s first session.
• Article 176 requires the Governor to deliver a special address at the first session of each year of every State Legislative Assembly and to both Houses in states with a Legislative Council.
o The language of these provisions was taken from the House of Commons’ rules.
• The Tamil Nadu Governor, R.N. Ravi, made constitutional history in the state by omitting certain paragraphs and deviating from the official text of his special address at the opening of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly for 2023.
• This is not the first time a governor has declined to read the government’s address.
o In 1967, Governor of Rajasthan Sampuranand did it.
• It is disturbing that Governors in states governed by opposition parties continue to commit grave constitutional violations.
o Article 361 of the Constitution provides the Governor with absolute immunity from any legal action because our founding fathers hoped governors would uphold the highest standards of moral rectitude and propriety.
• Dharma Vira, a later governor of West Bengal, also omitted portions of a speech sent to him by the government, specifically the section concerning his dismissal of the first United Front Government in Bengal.
o By that time, the Calcutta High Court had upheld the governor’s decision and declared the dismissal constitutional.
Views of Legislators
• In 1960, while addressing the Lok Sabha, Jawaharlal Nehru stated that the President’s address is merely a statement of government policy.
• During the Constituent Assembly debates, Professor K.T. Shah proposed an amendment to Article 87 granting the President the discretion to also deliver an address on “other particular issues of policy he deems suitable for such address.”
•This amendment was rejected because B.R. Ambedkar pointed out that, according to Article 86, the President had the right to address either House or both Houses of Parliament together, and that for this purpose, Parliament had to convene.
•Article 175 granted the Governor similar authority.
o Therefore, when an independent power is granted under Article 175, it is highly improper for a Governor (or even the President) to omit several paragraphs from a prepared speech by the incumbent government.
Commentary on the Court’s
• The Calcutta High Court, when interpreting this article in Syed Abdul Mansur Habibullah v. The Speaker, West Bengal Legislative Assembly (1966), determined that the special address is not merely a formality for the sake of ceremony.
o It informs members of the executive policies and legislative agenda of the State government.
•The High Court added that the failure to deliver the special address impedes legislative debates and budgetary critiques.
o The High Court ruled that when the governor fails to deliver his address under Article 176 and walks out of the House after placing the address on the table of the House, this is merely an irregularity and not a violation of the law.
• According to the Supreme Court, constitutional conventions are as integral to the Constitution as its written text. And it is well-established that constitutional morality includes both adherence to the written text of the Constitution and constitutional conventions.
o These conventions fill the gaps in a written Constitution and allow for effective coordination among the legislature, executive, and judiciary.
• In Yogender Singh Handa v. State of Rajasthan (1967), the Rajasthan High Court determined that the governor’s reading of a portion of the address was sufficient to deem the entire address as read.
Conclusion and Future Steps
• The special address of the Governor is an important constitutional duty that is performed with the assistance and advice of the Council of Ministers, led by the Chief Minister.
• The constitutional role of the Governor is that of an elder statesman who brings gravitas to this high office, and by his oath, he must preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and the law. It is a testament to the strength of our Constitution that it has remained the backbone of India’s republican democracy for over 70 years.
• As constitutional functionaries, governors and chief ministers should respect each other and at least have a working relationship.
Mains Practice Question
[Q] Examine the significance and controversies surrounding the Governor’s Special Address.