The Union Government’s decision to do away with the Question Hour in the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament, has understandably evoked a strong reaction from Members of Parliament (MPs) in opposition.
According to an NDTV report, the upcoming session of Parliament, beginning September 14, will not have time for Private Members’ business, the hour for bills introduced by MPs, with the Centre citing COVID-19 as the reason for the change. The report mentions that the zero hour, intended for MPs to raise issues of public importance, has been cut down to half, and that the first hour – Question Hour – has been done away with altogether.
Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will be working four hours a day in the upcoming session, with the former reportedly sitting between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the first day and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. till October 1. The upper house will convene between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the first day (September 14) and meet between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. thereafter.
According to the Rajya Sabha website, the Question Hour is “one of the most significant items of business in parliamentary proceedings and it gives the whole institution of Parliament the great significance it possesses. This Hour has assumed high importance in legislatures because of Government's heavy involvement in matters affecting the day-to-day life of the citizens for which Ministers are collectively and severally answerable to the people. Asking questions is a refined parliamentary device.”
The website further mentions that questions, asked to elicit information, act as “legislative control over executive actions.”
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor took to Twitter, saying that “strongmen leaders would use the excuse of the pandemic to stifle democracy and dissent”, asking how it could be “justified” on the pretext of keeping the MPs safe.
“Questioning the government is the oxygen of parliamentary democracy. This Govt seeks to reduce Parliament to a notice-board & uses its crushing majority as a rubber-stamp for whatever it wants to pass. The one mechanism to promote accountability has now been done away with (sic),” he added.
“MPs required to submit Qs for Question Hour in #Parliament 15 days in advance. Session starts 14 Sept. So Q Hour cancelled? Oppn MPs lose right to Q govt. A first since 1950 ? Parliament overall working hours remain same so why cancel Q Hour?Pandemic excuse to murder democracy (sic),” Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien wrote on Twitter.
Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge said that the move was not just a “violation of a member’s right” but meant that the government is “uncomfortable answering questions on their Governance”. He added that it showed the “autocratic mindset” of the Centre.
Communist Party of India MP Binoy Viswam reportedly wrote to Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu. In his letter, Viswam said that the government “has effectively ensured that its accountability to the Parliament and to the people has been done away with.”
“The use of the COVID-19 pandemic to subvert democratic traditions and practices cannot be accepted,” he added.
Here is a pictorial breakdown of a day’s business in both houses of Parliament, courtesy MyParliament.org