Pranab Mukherjee will address both Houses at the beginning of the budget session today. A look at the significance of the presidential address
When and why does the President address Parliament?
The President makes a special address to a joint sitting of both Houses, at the beginning of the first session after an election, and at the first session each year (usually the budget session). The address is a statement of government policy, which has to be approved by the Cabinet. The President highlights the legislative and policy activities and achievements during the preceding year and gives a broad indication of the agenda for the year ahead.
How does Parliament take it up?
The address is followed by a motion of thanks moved in each House by ruling party MPs, followed by discussions that last up to three or four days and conclude with the Prime Minister replying to the points raised during the discussion. On an average, the discussion takes up to 12 hours in each House, and about 80 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 40 in the Rajya Sabha participate.
After the PM's reply, MPs vote on the motion of thanks and some may move amendments to the address. The amendments may emphasise or add issues addressed by the President or highlight those that did not find mention. Changes proposed by MPs are not passed in Parliament. Since 1952, only three amendments proposed by MPs have been passed during the vote on the address, all in the Rajya Sabha.
How has the government dealt with policy targets set in the address?
The UPA II government, through the President's address in June 2009, announced a 100-day agenda. Of the eight bills listed for passing within 100 days, none has been passed. Among key pending bills are the women's reservation bill, passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010 but not discussed in the Lok Sabha despite being listed every session. Two bills providing 50 per cent reservation for women in panchayats and municipalities are pending in Parliament. The Food Security Bill has been pending since 2011; a parliamentary standing committee gave its recommendations last month. In 2011, the government introduced two bills to help streamline the delivery of public services, both pending.
What is the status of other legislative announcements by the President since 2009?
RTE ACT: UPA II has passed the Act, providing every child between the age of six and 14 with the right to free and compulsory education. By March 2013 all schools were to conform to the minimum standards prescribed, but states have expressed concerns over their
LAND ACQUISITION BILL: It was introduced in 2011 and the standing committee has given its recommendations on various issues in the law. The government has approved changes and listed it for passing in the upcoming session.
PENDING: Anti-corruption legislation in terms of setting up a Lokpal and Lokayuktas, protection of whistleblowers and enforcing judicial standards and accountability are all pending in the Rajya Sabha.
AWAITING DISCUSSION: Legislation overhauling direct taxes and introducing the goods and services tax, introduced in Parliament, have not yet been discussed in either House.
Prepared by Jhalak M Kakkar, Source: PRS Legislative Research