The Opposition has criticised the government for its decision not to have the Question Hour and the Private Members' Business, alleging that it is trying to "murder" democracy in the name of COVID-19 and the session is being convened to bring legislative proposals to replace ordinances.
The government on Thursday said it will answer every question asked in Parliament and 160 “unstarred” questions will be answered every day during the upcoming Monsoon session starting September 14, sources said. Countering the Opposition charge of curtailing the Question Hour, the sources in the government said this is not the first time that the Question Hour will not be taken up during a session as it was dispensed with in 2004 and 2009, besides also in 1991 as well as in 1962, 1975 and 1976 for various reasons.
A research conducted by the Rajya Sabha also revealed that 60 per cent of Question Hour time was not availed during the last five years with only 40 per cent utilisation. Sources said the Question Hour was first done away with during the Emergency in 1975 and 1976, when everything was functioning normally except opposition leaders, who were put behind bars, and the media, which was censored.
Unlike then, the government has argued that it is a real health emergency in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the session is being held under extraordinary circumstances even as there is a paucity of time.
The presiding officers of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have received a letter from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, informing them that the government has consulted different political parties and that there is a broad consensus, barring one political party, on doing away with the Question Hour.
It is based on this consensus among the opposition parties that the government has requested the presiding officers to do away with the Question Hour and Private Members’ Business for this session, the sources said.
Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged that Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi had not consulted all the opposition leaders. He said doing away with the Question Hour, not holding the government accountable to the questions of public interest raised in Parliament in the “starred” category “is an assault on India’s democracy and a sinister design to undermine the Parliament of the country and Parliamentary practices”.
He said in the “starred” question category, the minister concerned has to answer supplementary questions. The idea is to hold the government accountable to ensure that public welfare steps are taken and fix accountability of the government to Parliament and through it, to the 130 crore people of India, the Congress leader said.
Besides the “unstarred” questions, up to 10 special mentions would also be taken up to bring matters of importance to the government’s notice, the sources said. Both houses will also discuss important issues like the pandemic, the state of the economy and other developments and there will be provisions for short-duration discussions, besides calling attention notices will also be taken up, they said.
The Opposition has criticised the government for its decision not to have the Question Hour and the Private Members’ Business, alleging that it is trying to “murder” democracy in the name of COVID-19 and the session is being convened to bring legislative proposals to replace ordinances.
“By abolishing the Question Hour, the government is running scared of answering relevant questions to the people of India through their elected representatives. The Modi government does not want to answer questions on the transgressions by China, about India’s economy and the free fall of the GDP.
“The Modi government does not want to be held accountable in the coronavirus (pandemic). It does not want to be held accountable for the closure of businesses and industries. The Modi government does not want to be held accountable for the sinister stifling of democracy and that is why it wants to end the Question Hour. The Congress party will oppose it tooth and nail,” Surjewala said at an online media briefing.
Government sources have argued that there has been no Question Hour in assemblies in states ruled by the Congress or other opposition parties during the pandemic and that sessions are being held for only one to three days. The research conducted by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat revealed that during 2015-19, only about 40 per cent of the Question Hour time was available to raise questions and obtain oral responses of the government and 60 per cent of it went unused on account of disruptions.
In the said period, the Rajya Sabha held a total of 332 sittings, during which a total time of 332 hours was available for the Question Hour, but only 133 hours and 17 minutes were spent on raising questions and obtaining oral replies from the ministers concerned. The actual time spent on the Question Hour was 18 hours and seven minutes in 2015, 34 hours and 48 minutes in 2016, the maximum of 35 hours and 13 minutes in 2017 and the minimum of 14 hours and 29 minutes in 2018. Only 30 hours and 40 minutes were spent in 2019.