Facing attack from Opposition leaders for suspending question hour from the Monsoon session of Parliament that begins on September 14, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said the decision was taken in consultation with the them.
Many are now complaining about it as an afterthought, he said.
Congress’ Jairam Ramesh and Shashi Tharoor were among those to criticise the government for suspending the question hour.
In an interview to The Print, Joshi, however, said the at least 40 opposition leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, were “on board” when the government suggested suspending the question hour.
He said the Opposition was now demanding question hour after disrupting it throughout the last six years. “During the last six years, how many times has the Opposition disrupted question hour? They had not allowed question hour to function for one reason or another. Now, they are talking about how it is such an important aspect of parliamentary democracy,” he said.
However, in view of the protests, the government has said it will allow ‘unstarred’ questions — those that can be given written reply instead of the ministers concerned having to answer them in Parliament.
“We can’t do anything if Congress leaders don’t talk with each other. Both their leaders in the two Houses were on board with the government’s decision when we called and told them it will be difficult to schedule Question Hour as it will require the presence of a large number of officials representing different ministries in the House,” he told The Print.
But the Congress leaders are now singing a different tune, he said. “Except for Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien, all the opposition leaders the government had spoke to had agreed to suspend Question Hour,” he said.
“We can’t do anything. We can’t record the conversation that we have with every opposition leader,” Joshi said.
He said the government had suggested the move to ensure the safety of the Members of Parliament amid the COVID pandemic.
Any issue — from COVID 19 to unemployment — will be allowed to be discussed, he said. “The government will allow discussion on any issue that the Parliament’s business advisory committee (BAC) approves,” he said.
Joshi said the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha will sit only for two hours daily, including on weekends, in view of COVID.
“While the Rajya Sabha will meet in the morning, the Lok Sabha will meet in the afternoon. The RS staff will be allowed only during morning hours while LS staff will be allowed to come in the noon. After the RS session ends, both the House premises will be thoroughly sanitised,” the minister told The Print.
He said all parliamentary members will have to get a COVID-negative certificate before coming for the Monsoon session.