Among the several changes applied for the Monsoon session of the Parliament, the removal of the Question Hour and the shortening of the Zero Hour have generated controversy as the notable features of Indian democracy have been put in dire straits.
Crux of the Matter
Monsoon session of the Indian Parliament would be held between September 14 and October 1 this year. While the Parliament usually starts by July for the session, this time it was shut down since 25 March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Major Changes For The Season
- For the monsoon session, the Question Hour has been removed. Only written answers would be provided by the concerned ministries.
- Zero Hour would be restricted in both the Lok Sabha (LS) and the Rajya Sabha (RS) to 30 minutes duration.
- No weekend off for the Parliament this session.
- New timings:
Rajya Sabha (RS): 9 am – 1 pm
Lok Sabha (LS): 3 pm – 7 pm.
- Only select media staff would be allowed to “record the daily proceedings”.
- MPs now allowed to wear masks inside the Parliament.
- Proper ventilation would be kept in the Parliament to prevent Covid-19 spread.
- Sanitisation would be managed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
What Is Question Hour?
Question hour is a 1-hour slot in parliamentary discussion, where MPs ask questions to the concerned ministries. These questions are replied with vital information and facts, with action also being initiated on the issue if required. An MP desiring to ask a question has to submit a notice usually between 10 to 21 days prior to the session. The admitted questions are asked by the MP on the allotted day with the Minister giving an oral reply. The MP is then allowed 2 supplementary questions.
The limits on the number of questions asked in a session are 20 for Starred (requiring oral answer) questions, and usually 230 (not exceeding 255) for Unstarred (requiring written answer) questions. Question hour has been suspended thrice in the history of India: 1962 (during the Indo-China war), 1971 (during the Indo-Pak war), and 1975-77 (during the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi).
Short notice questions can be asked on a notice of fewer than 10 days provided it mentions the reason for such short time request. The Question Hour has been broadcasted to the public since 1991 and occurs on all days of session in both LS and RS Houses except when the President addresses MPs from both Houses (when the new LS and new Parliament year begins) or when the Finance Minister presents the Budget.
Reactions To Question Hour Removal
Opposition MPs lose right to question govt. A first since 1950? Parliament overall working hours remain same so why cancel Question Hour? Pandemic excuse to murder democracy.Derek O’Brien, MP Rajya Sabha, TMC
Questioning the government is the oxygen of parliamentary democracy. The one mechanism to promote accountability has now been done away with.Shashi Tharoor, MP Lok Sabha, Congress
It is far-fetched and too dramatic to say that this is being done by the government to evade questions. This is simply a case of extraordinary measures for extraordinary times.Anil Baluni, MP Rajya Sabha, BJP
What Is Zero Hour?
Zero Hour is a time slot immediately after the Question Hour. It allows MPs to raise “matters of urgent public importance”. 20 matters are allowed to be raised in a session. This practice has been in existence since 1962. An MP desiring to ask a question has to provide notice to the Speaker before the session starts.
- The discovery of the Mundhra scam (1957) has been cited as a notable achievement of Question Hour.
- 4 September 1957: Congress MP Ram Subhag Singh asked unstarred question regarding LIC’s investment of ₹1 crore “in a private enterprise in Kanpur”.
- 29 November, 1957: Singh asked a starred question on the issue.
- 16 December, 1957: Congress MP Feroze Gandhi raised debate on the issue.
- The committee led by Justice MC Chagla found that the amount was invested in companies of a businessman Haridas Mundhra. The scandal led to the resignation of the then Finance Minister T T Krishnamachari.
- Oral Questions occurs each sitting day in the House of Commons of Canada, in which members of the parliament ask questions to government ministers. The process is very similar to the Indian parliament’s question hour.
- In 1974, a licence scandal was unearthed during question hour. A memorandum allegedly signed by 21 MPs were submitted by traders of Puducherry to the Union Commerce Ministry to grant licenses for importing various items. The signatures were forged on the behest of Indira Gandhi’s key aide, Lalit Narain Mishra.
- Japan held its first question time on 10 November, 1999; the first question asked to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi was “Prime Minister, what did you have for breakfast this morning?”.
- Hindustan Times – Shorter hours, new rules to mark this monsoon session of Parliament
- The Indian Express – An Expert Explains: What are Question Hour and Zero Hour, and why they matter
- BloombergQuint – What A Parliament Session Without Question Hour Would Mean
- My Parliament – THE QUESTION HOUR AND THE ZERO HOUR: PARLIAMENT OF INDIA
- Moneycontrol – Mundhra scam and the importance of Question Hour
- NDTV – Anger Over Government’s ‘No Question Hour’ Move For Parliament Session
- The Hindu – Extraordinary measures for extraordinary times, says BJP