For the first time, the governor skipped the text of the customary address to the assembly

While the chief minister was pointing out that the governor skipped a certain portion of the speech that he was supposed to read, the governor left the assembly session of the house. This has once again raised concerns about the governor’s powers and functions.

History of governor powers and assembly addresses

  • Governors’ non-interference under British law: A good governor must remain above politics and be perceived as impartial and fair. In 1937, when the Congress won elections in seven provinces, it took office on the condition that the British governors would not interfere in the functioning of its ministries and refrain from exercising “discretion and special powers”.
  • Special powers granted by the constitution: Following independence, India bestowed the same special powers on governors.
  • Yogender Singh Handa v. Rajasthan State (1967): Rajasthan Governor Sampuranand skipped a section of his speech in 1967. The Rajasthan High Court held in Yogender Singh Handa v. State of Rajasthan (1967) that some portion of the governor’s address was sufficient to deem the entire address read.
  • West Bengal Governor Padmaja Naidu left the assembly without delivering the ceremonial address on February 8, 1965, after her request for “silence, silence, permit me to address” was ignored. The Speaker took the chair, announced that the governor had been pleased to make her speech, and placed a copy of it on the House table.

Powers and functions of the governor

  • Assembly member: The governor is a voting member of the legislative assembly. He calls the House to order and dissolves it.
  • Right to address the House in its first session: Under Article 176(2(b), he has the right to address the House in its first session. This address is a vital part of constitutional symbolism and carries a great deal of weight.
  • Cabinet powers, not Governor: The governors have no authority to call an assembly session, according to the Constitution. Parliamentary democracy being the basic structure of our Constitution, this is the prerogative of the Cabinet though Article 174 does say that the governor from time to time summons the assembly to meet at such time and place “he thinks fit”.
  • Case of Nabam Rebia (2016): Governors have no right to question the purpose of House sessions. In Nabam Rebia (2016), a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court observed that the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, J P Rajkhowa, who advanced the session of the assembly without consulting the chief minister, had exceeded his jurisdiction because he had no discretion in convening the assembly session.

Is it legal for the governor to skip the mandatory assembly speech?

  • The governor cannot refuse to give a speech: In Andul Gafoor Habibullah v. Speaker, West Bengal Assembly (1966), Justice B N Banerjee of the Calcutta High Court held that the governor could not refuse to deliver his address and thus refuse to fulfill his constitutional duty.
  • Failure to address is an irregularity, not a legality: address is required under Article 176. The HC, on the other hand, held that when the government fails to deliver its address under Article 176 and walks out of the House after laying the address on the table, this is merely an irregularity, not an illegality.
  • Non-judicial: It cannot be challenged in court under Article 212, which states that the validity of House proceedings cannot be challenged on the basis of minor procedural irregularities. In this case, the petitioner claimed that because the House did not begin its proceedings with the customary address by the governor, the proceedings of the House were vitiated.

Implications: What if the governor refuses or fails to deliver the assembly address?

  • Constitutional crisis: Governors who edit or delete the speech may cause a constitutional crisis. The chief minister may refuse to defend the address in his response at the end of the debate on the governor’s address, and the House may reject the resolution on the governor’s speech if the chief minister commands a majority.
  • CM may be forced to resign: When the governor’s/address president is defeated, it is considered a no-confidence motion, and the chief minister or prime minister, depending on the case, must resign.
  • Resignation due to an irregularity: Such a resignation due to something that the government did not include in the ceremonial address but that the governor said on its own would be not only grossly unjust and unethical but also completely undemocratic.
  • Resignation precedent: In 1967, Punjab Chief Minister Gurnam Singh resigned after the governor’s address was defeated on the House floor. When a resolution thanking the governor was defeated in the UP assembly, UP CM C B Gupta was forced to resign under similar circumstances. As a result, the governor has no leeway in editing the address.

@the end

Governor is neither an adornment nor a glorified cipher. His powers are limited, but he plays an important constitutional role in state governance and strengthening federalism. He is the state’s chief minister, and all chief ministers, including Tamil Nadu’s, must remember that. All governors must uphold their oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.

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