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The President is in the Hall

india Updated: Nov 25, 2006 03:10 IST

Under the Indian Constitution, the President is expected to address both Houses of Parliament at the beginning of every session. The practice dates back to 1921 when the Central Legislature was set up under the Government of India Act, 1919. The Act provided for the address of the Governor General to either House.

Although the President has a right under Article 86 (1) to address either or both Houses of Parliament when he prorogues them, he has opted to address both Houses together at the beginning of the first session after each general election and at the beginning of the first session of each year.

Until 1957, his arrival would be preceded by an announcement by his ADC: "Members of Parliament, the President".

A year later, the one line announcement was replaced by an element of fanfare as two trumpeters heralded his arrival.

Till 1978, the President would arrive at Parliament in a state coach driven by six horses accompanied by a mounted bodyguard. He now arrives by car. Interestingly, it was Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s observation about the six-horse coach, which had a far-reaching impact on the President’s address. In 1950, the President addressed each of the three sessions of the provisional Parliament.

Before the House adjourned to meet again on February 5, 1951, the Speaker suggested that the practice of the President addressing each session be restricted to an address at the beginning of the first session each year. Referring to ‘administrative difficulties’, Nehru told the House: “…When a coach and six horses come, all kinds of things have to be done for that…” And the Constitution was amended to have the President address both the Houses at the beginning of the first session.

The President’s address is drafted by the government; it is a statement of the government’s policy. In addition to indicating the legislative business to be taken up in Parliament, the President’s address reviews the achievements of the government and spells out the policies it intends to pursue.

The Motion of Thanks follows the President’s Address. It is a discussion in the House on matters referred to in the address that is concluded with the Prime Minister’s reply.

According to convention, no member is allowed to leave the Central Hall during the President’s address. But there have been instances of MPs walking out in protest over the President addressing MPs in English. In 1963, for instance, President S Radhakrishnan started addressing both Houses in English, only to be interrupted by MPs who demanded that he address them in Hindi. In 1966, Swami Rameshwaranand, an MP, walked out on the same issue. And in 1971, Lok Sabha member Raj Narain interrupted President VV Giri and asked him to read his address either in Hindi or his mother tongue.

That apart, unruly scenes have been witnessed during the President’s Address: On February 18, 1974, soon after President started addressing the members, Jyotirmoy Bosu, then an MP, made certain remarks. This led to a group of CPI (M) members to rush to the dais and raise their voices. With Congress members jostling and pushing, there was mayhem.

Email Kumkum Chadha: kumkum@hindustantimes.com

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