Abolition of question hour: Why we should relinquish disinformation and know the truth
The issue of the Centre’s decision not to have question hours during the upcoming Parliament session has made the opposition question it. But truth to tell, such abolitions are nothing new
Bengaluru: Question hour is an integral part of Parliament/state legislatures. But there have been instances when question hour was done away with. When and Why?
It’s not the first time. It was done in 1962, 1975, 1976, 1991, 2004 and 2009 for various reasons.
It is said that 1975 and 1976 instances were during emergency. Emergency was only for opposition and media. Everything was normal including transport, schools, colleges, entertainment. Everything was functioning normally, except leaders of opposition parties who were put behind bars and the media, which was censored and gagged. Now the present one is the real health emergency – in the midst of unprecedented pandemic. Almost all the opposition leaders accepted that the country is in extraordinary situation because of this health emergency.
The presiding officers of both the Houses have received a letter from the ministry of parliamentary affairs informing that the government consulted different political parties and that there was a broad consensus, barring one political party, on doing away with the question hour. Based on that consensus among the opposition parties, the government requested the presiding officers to do away the question hour and Private Members Business for this session.
Is the Question Hour not going to be there during the upcoming Session?
No. There will be questions to be answered by the government – There will be 160 unstarred questions to elicit information. Besides, there will be special mentions, up to 10 in number, to bring matters of importance to the notice of the government.
What else is Parliament going to do?
Parliament is going to discuss various important issues of concern to the people and the country including the pandemic COVID 19, state of economy and other developments that will be brought before the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) and agreed upon. The provision of Short Duration Discussion (SDD) and Calling Attention Notice (CAN) are very much there to discuss important issues.
People say, is the session only to stamp the bills and ordinances?
This is a wrong description. A bill or a legislation is the proposal on a particular issue brought before the house by the government in the larger interest of the country and the people. And it is the duty of the government to bring legislative proposals to replace the ordinances issued whenever the house is not in session. In fact, you must appreciate the government for bringing a number of bills. There will be a discussion and decision of the house on each of such legislations. One can support or oppose, but every issue will be settled by majority in true spirit of parliamentary democracy.
Why time is curtailed?
As explained earlier, we are meeting in extraordinary times and circumstances prevailing in the country. Meeting of Parliament is as per the constitutional provision and for doing public work and to deal with public issues. Government wants the members’ stay in Delhi for a shorter period and once they perform their responsibilities, they can go back to their constituencies and be with the people.
When many of the state legislatures are functioning for one or two or three days, why Parliament is meeting for 18 days?
It shows the commitment of the government of the day to perform its constitutional mandate by having discussions on all the important issues and taking up such business as is necessary in the larger interest of the country.
Doing away with question hour is, some say, ‘murder of democracy’. Is it really so?
The answer is NO. There were no question hour, zero hour submissions, calling attentions, short duration discussions and other parliamentary mechanisms in some states where the assemblies met. Do you mean to say that they all have murdered democracy? Some leaders from states like Kerala are more vocal. They should explain to the people why there was no question hour as also other discussions in their state assembly. The Congress, the Communist parties and the TMC are vocal but they should remember and tell the people what they have done in their ‘local’. The Communists and their friends are ruling in Kerala and ably supported by the Congress party. Punjab is ruled by the Congress party. In Rajasthan where the Congress is ruling, the assembly met just for 4 days. There was no question hour and no zero hour and 13 bills were passed without much discussion. In Maharashtra, where a 2-day session is proposed, there is going to be no question hour and no zero hour. In Uttar Pradesh, a bigger state, there was no question hour and no zero hour and also in many other states like Andhra Pradesh.
People say there was a broad consensus or agreement between the government and the opposition in these States. Here also the government reached out to the opposition including the Leaders of Opposition in both the houses and major political parties. As stated earlier, except one, all other parties broadly agreed. Consensus does not mean that if one party or one person opposes you cannot act; consensus means larger agreement of minds.
You could have accommodated the question hour.
Let us understand the reality. Each house meets for 4 hours a day. If one hour goes for questions and another hour for zero hour submissions, will the remaining time of two hours be sufficient to take up discussions and deliberations on bills, ordinances and other important issues that are going to come up before the house?
We are in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. We should not only follow social distancing and wear masks but should also give time to get the premises sanitized after each sitting of the houses. Each house is meeting for 4 hours a day and, as explained earlier, there is going to be 160 unstarred questions per day. As stated earlier, extraordinary measures are required for extraordinary times. The government has already said that they will answer every question asked in the house. You do not allow question hour in states where you are in power but you try to raise hue and cry here because you are in the opposition. This is patently unfair.
Is the Question Hour so sacrosanct?
Yes, but one should remember even in normal times, question hour was disturbed on several occasions. As per statistics available, in the last eight sessions of Rajya Sabha, out of the 162 hours of time allotted for question, only 59 hours of time could be utilized. 103 hours of time (63.32%) was lost due to disruptions and forced adjournments etc.
Everyone should remember what their government earlier at the Centre and what their governments in the states are doing or have done. In democracy, criticism is always welcome, but it should be fair. That is why we say let us speak truth. It is expected that the media will bring facts before the people — about how the governments in the past and the present are acting so that viewers/readers get a proper understanding. People are saying why the opposition is backtracking now after having agreed? It is only for them to answer.