New Delhi: Lok Sabha on Monday decided to do away with Question Hour and private members' business during the Monsoon session, inviting strong criticism from opposition members who accused the government of stifling democracy.
The Lower House adopted the motion to suspend Question Hour, with the government maintaining that it is not running away from discussion and will reply to all questions raised by the Opposition.
Slamming the move, the opposition led by the Congress said that Question Hour is the "golden hour of the House".
Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said the argument and rationale that has been put forth by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi is far from convincing.
He said the Question Hour is recognised as an essence of parliamentary democracy and executives are accountable and answerable during the Question Hour.
In such an extraordinary situation, if the House is running, "why Question Hour is singled out," he asked.
"We get chance to raise issues of common people. Question Hour is simply a golden hour of the House," he said, adding by doing way with this, the government is trying to "throttle democracy".
During the Question Hour, which is the first business of the day, members are allowed to ask questions concerning public interest from the ministers.
Moving the motion, Joshi said the Lok Sabha session is being held in extraordinary circumstances amid the COVID-19 pandemic and this House resolves that starred questions and private members' business may not be brought before it for transaction during the session.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said the Question Hour and private members' business are cornerstone of democracy and it is very much essential for the existence of parliamentary democracy.
"I urge the Speaker not to allow the executive to encroach on the territory of the legislature. It is a shameful day," he said.
He also requested for a division, which was not accepted by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla.
Manish Tewari (Congress) said this is the only time when the Opposition can hold the government accountable.
TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee said the Question Hour is an integral part of the basic structure of parliamentary procedure and "we cannot destroy that part". Today, the government has pressure to pass bills, he said.
"We also have our views to express," he said adding, "kindly do not take away this advantage. It will take the entire glamour, 50 per cent glamour of running Parliament," he added.
Joshi said before arriving at this decision, deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to almost all leaders of various parties.
"I would like to tell various leaders who questioned the suspension of Question Hour that all state Assemblies including Punjab, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have run sessions for a day or two and passed several bills, whereas the government of India decided to run for 18 days and hold discussion on Bills," Joshi said.
People are saying this is the basic structure of Parliament then what had happened in 1975, he questioned.
In the last five years, 60% = of Question Hour in Rajya Sabha and 40% in Lok Sabha was wasted, he added.
There are so many ways to question the government and it is not running away from discussion and "we are going to reply to all questions which you are going to raise," he said.
The defence minister said that leaders of most parties agreed over no Question Hour and Zero Hour for 30 minutes.
Singh said that he has discussed the matter with several leaders and noted that this session is being held in an extraordinary situation.
"We apprised you (Speaker) of it following which decision was taken by you. I appeal to all members of House to cooperate as session is being held in an extraordinary situation...We need support from all" as the House will run only for four hours, he added.
He said if somebody wants to ask a question, they can do during the Zero Hour, he said, adding most of the leaders have agreed on the issue of doing away with the Question Hour.
"I would urge all members to extend their support...You can raise issues through unstarred questions, ministers will reply. If members are not satisfied from that reply, then you can seek clarifications during Zero Hour also," Singh said.
The Speaker sought support of all members for smooth functioning of the House.
"I will provide sufficient time," he said.
Meanwhile, DMK MP TR Baalu raised the matter of some students ending their lives recently.
"I would like to draw the attention of this House and the government to the plight of 12 students who had committed suicide - all from rural background - because of NEET exam," he said.
He added that these students had passed class 12 through state board syllabus and NEET is conducted only on basis of CBSE syllabus.
Without knowing much about the CBSE syllabus, the students are helpless and committing suicide, he said, adding,"Future doctors of India have committed suicide".
Chowdhury tried to raise the issue of Indo-China border tensions, but the Speaker asked him to raise it in the meeting of the Business Advisory Committee.
Birla said this is a sensitive issue and it should be raised in a sensitive manner.
Chowdhury said: "I would like to seek the attention of the government and the defence minister that for last several months, Indian citizens are worried because at the borders...Today also, there is a news report that China is watching our President".