The monsoon session of Parliament has started amidst the unprecedented pandemic situation, and the opposition has found a reason to agitate. Congress has raised the pitch on question hour being suspended. Their rhetorical claims like “scrapping the question hour is killing the soul of the Parliament” will create an impression of parties being totally barred from asking questions. But the provision for unstarred questions is there, for which the concerned minister needs to place a written answer. Also, zero hour can be utilized to raise counter questions and demand further explanations.
At the beginning of the session, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has already explained the reason behind this.
Leaders of most parties agreed over no Question Hour & Zero Hour for 30 minutes. We apprised you (Speaker) of it following which decision was taken by you. I appeal to all members of House to co-operate as Session is being held in extraordinary situation:Defence Min Rajnath Singh pic.twitter.com/gbCAPX1Obr
— ANI (@ANI) September 14, 2020
Here are the facts one should consider before buying the argument lock, stock and barrel without thought.
- The decision was not taken overnight. The parties were consulted weeks before to arrive at this conclusion. The reason for not having the question hour reportedly is that it requires the presence of a large number of officials in Parliament to brief ministers, which is not ideal in the pandemic situation.
- It is not the first time that question hour has been suspended. As a report in The Times of India notes, question hour was done away with in 1962, 1975, 1976, 1991, 2004, and 2009 for various reasons. Congress should remember that it was their UPA government which was ruling back in 2009 when the last instance of suspending question hour occurred.
- It is obvious that in the ongoing pandemic situation, it is highly desirable that sessions be conducted with minimum number of officials. This is the reason why various states after March 2020 suspended question hour in their assemblies. Examples being: Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
- No one can deny that the present session of Parliament is being conducted under extraordinary circumstances. There is a paucity of time because of all the precautionary measures and time curtailment to deal with the situation. There will be a four-hour session for each House each day (9 am to 1 pm for Rajya Sabha and 3 pm to 7 pm for Lok Sabha) with only the first day having a morning session. The session will see other measures like seating MPs in a staggered way in chambers of both Houses, as well as galleries to maintain physical distancing norms, introduction of mobile app for registering of MPs’ attendance and seats separated with poly-carbon sheets in the House.
Congress and some opposition parties are trying to depict the suspension of question hour as “muzzling of voices.” But the facts as they stand above give you the true picture.