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Procedure and importance of President’s Address in Parliament

Source: Indian Express

Gs2: Parliament and State Legislatures—Structure, Functioning, Conduct of Business, Powers & Privileges and Issues Arising out of these.

Synopsis: The History, Procedure & tradition and format of President’s address in Parliament.

Background:

  • The first Parliament session for 2021 is set to begin. It is the constitutional mandate for the President (Ram Nath Kovind) to address the 1st session of the members of both Houses of Parliament, every year.
  • It is the only occasion in the year when the entire Parliament, i.e., the President, Lok Sabha, and Rajya Sabha come together, in a normal situation.
  • This process of President’s address every year during its 1st session has its own history, tradition, and procedures.

History: Before Independence

  • In India, the practice of the President addressing Parliament can be traced back to the Government of India Act of 1919. This law gave the Governor-General the right to address the Legislative Assembly and the Council of State.
  • But the Government of India Act of 1919 did not have any provision for a joint address.

History: After independence

  • After the Constitution came into force, it empowered the President to address either House or a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament.
  • For the first time on January 31, 1950, President Rajendra Prasad addressed members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
  • According to article 87 of the constitution, the President needs to address a joint sitting on two special occasions
      • The first is to address the opening session of a new legislature after each general election.
      • The second is to address the first sitting of Parliament each year.
  • It has to be noted that, Article 87(1) originally required the President to address both Houses of Parliament at the commencement of every session.
  • However, The First Amendment to the Constitution in 1951 changed this position and made the President’s address once a year.

Format for the President’s speech

  • Currently, The address of the President follows a general structure. It highlights the government’s accomplishments from the previous year and sets the broad governance agenda for the coming year.
  • The government also uses the President’s address to make policy and legislative announcements. For example,
      • In 1996, PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s (13-day) government used the president’s address to announce its intention of giving statehood to Uttaranchal and Vananchal (Jharkhand) and 33 percent reservation to women in legislatures.
      • In 2004, After the devastating tsunami of, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government used the President’s Address to announce the creation of a national law for disaster management.
      • And in 2015, the Narendra Modi governments used the president’s address to announce its plan to fast pace financial sector reforms.

Motion of Thanks: Procedure & tradition

  • Following the President’s address, a motion of thanks is moved in the two Houses by the ruling MP’s. The deliberations on this motion last for three to four days.
  • During this period, MPs of both the Houses will have a broad debate on governance in the country.
  • Following the debate, The Prime Minister will reply to the motion of thanks in both Houses and responds to the issues raised by MPs.
  • Then the motion is put to vote and MPs can express their disagreement by moving amendments to the motion.
  • Such amendments may be used for including some issues or highlighting some issues which did not find mention in the speech.
    • Opposition MPs have been successful in getting amendments passed to the motion of thanks in Rajya Sabha on five occasions (1980, 1989, 2001, 2015, 2016). But it has been less successful in Lok Sabha.
  • Also, it has to be noted that the motion of Thanks must be passed in both of the houses.
  • A failure to get a motion of thanks passed (which may rarely happen) amounts to the defeat of the government.
  • Hence, Motion of thanks is sometimes deemed as no-confidence motion.

 

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