The Centre’s decision to scrap the Question Hour in the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament has flared up the Opposition, with many calling it an attempt to “murder democracy” and “muzzle voices of dissent”.
The question hour, usually the first hour of a House session, allows members of Parliament to ask administrative questions to the government. The concerned minister either answers the questions orally or in writing.
Scrapping it would absolve the government of all accountability, say Opposition leaders.
A notification issued by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat said while there would be no question hour and private members’ business (session to discuss bills tabled by MPs) during the monsoon session, zero hour (crunched to half-an-hour) and other proceedings will be held as per schedule. The Parliament is slated to meet for the monsoon session between September 14 and October 1.
Opposition leaders including Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, Congress MP Sashi Tharoor and Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi have decried the decision.
Taking to Twitter, O’Brien said the pandemic is being held as an excuse to murder democracy and that such a step to omit the Question Hour has been the first since 1950.
“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,” he tweeted.
Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor said by stifling voices, the government seeks to “reduce the Parliament to a notice-board and 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.”
1/2 I said four months ago that strongmen leaders would use the excuse of the pandemic to stifle democracy&dissent. The notification for the delayed Parliament session blandly announces there will be no Question Hour. How can this be justified in the name of keeping us safe?
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) September 2, 2020
Some opposition leaders also lampooned Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s argument that Question Hour would crowd the Parliament as it would require ministers to be briefed by officials of their ministries.
On Friday, senior Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to register his protest against the decision.
“…raising questions in Parliament, and issues of public importance during the Zero Hour are foremost of the procedural methods available to members to vent issues of national and public importance,” he wrote.
Shiv Sena spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi sought to know how scrapping Question Hour is justified when the government has no qualms about coercing students to appear in NEET/JEE exams amid the pandemic.
According to sources, the monsoon session would be held daily, in both houses, without breaks, even on weekends. COVID protocol will be in place and those who attend the session would be required to adhere to it including getting tested for the virus within 72 hours.
The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will be convened in separate sessions. On the first day, which is September 14, the Lok Sabha will be held from 1 am to 1 pm while the Rajya Sabha will sit from 3 pm to 7 pm. After September 14, proceedings in the Rajya Sabha will happen between 9 am and 1 pm while that in Lok Sabha will take place in the second half.
Both the houses will sit for four hours daily.