New Delhi, Sep 14, 2020, IANS
The government's decision to suspend Question Hour triggered widespread outrage among the opposition parties on the opening day of the Monsoon Session on Monday with lawmakers saying the move was an attempt to "strangulate democracy".
The opposition parties accused the government of using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to do away with any form of accountability.
Raising the issue of Question Hour in the Lok Sabha, Congress leader of the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said: "scrapping of the Question Hour is equal to preventing legislators from raising matters of national importance.
"Question Hour is recognised as the essence of Parliamentary democracy. Not only that Question Hour Hour could be interpreted as the soul of the House... This gives us (parliamentarians) an opportunity to represent the problem of common people. This is a golden hour for us. This is an attempt to strangulate democracy."
Similar response was seen from other opposition parties against the government. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi said the Question Hour and the Private Member's business are "cornerstone" of our democracy and these are very essential.
"By moving such motion, the Minister (Pralhad Joshi) is weakening the theory of separation of powers, which is part of the basic structure of our Constitution. I urge you (Speaker) to not allow the executive to encroach on the territory of legislation. It is a shameful day as the Question Hour and Private Member business are not taken up," Owasi said, seeking division on the issue. Interrupting the proceedings, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla disallowed the division sought by Owaisi.
Congress leader Manish Tewari said the House should first agree with the government's decision to suspend Question Hour. Trinamool Congress's Kalyan Banerjee said that the Question Hour is an integral part of the basic structure of the Parliamentary procedure and we cannot destroy that part.
The opposition raised the issue after Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi moved the motion, saying current session of the Lok Sabha is being held in an extraordinary situation prevailing due to the Covid-19 pandemic requiring maintenance of social distancing and keeping the movement of government officials and others within the Parliament premises to the bare minimum.
"This House resolved that starred questions and private member business may not be brought before the House for the transaction during the session in all the relevant rules on these subjects in the rules of procedure and conduct of business in the Lok Sabha may stand suspended to that extent," Joshi said.
He said Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, myself and my colleagues in Parliament Arjun Meghwal and V. Muraleedharan spoke to almost all leaders of almost every party before scrapping Question Hour. Given the pandemic, many states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab too suspended the Question Hour and passed 20-25 bills in two-three days without following the basic structure.
"We decided to run Parliament for 18 days and hold discussion on every issue. In the last five years, 60 per cent in Rajya Sabha and 40 per cent questions in Lok Sabha Question Hour was wasted in spite of having the resounding victory and people's mandate. "Deputy Leader of the House Rajnath Singh also said that he as well as Parliamentary Affairs Minister and his colleagues discussed with various leaders to scrap Question Hour as the session is being run for four hours only this time.
"Anything issued can be asked through unstarred questions. If lawmakers are not satisfied, they can clarify their issues in Zero Hour which will be held for half-an-hour."
The importance of the Question Hour in a parliamentary democracy lies in the fact that by using this time slot as a tool, the opposition can hold the government responsible and raise questions on issues of social, political and economic importance. It is worth noting here that a day's session of Lok Sabha begins with the Question Hour. To ensure transparency in the proceedings of the House, a live telecast of the Question Hour was started in 1991. Except a few times such as in 1962 when India fought a war with China, Parliament has never seen suspension of the Question Hour.