The decision to skip Question Hour and curtail Zero Hour in the upcoming Monsoon session of Parliament has earned criticism from Opposition parties. But Assembly sessions too have been curtailed in many states — ruled by the BJP as well as the Opposition — because of the pandemic.
From Trinamool Congress-ruled West Bengal to Congress-ruled Punjab and Rajasthan, BJP-ruled Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, and Shiv Sena-ruled Maharashtra, Assembly sessions have done away with Question Hour. And the Opposition parties — be it the BJP or the Congress — have attacked the respective governments.
The BJP in Bengal has attacked the Trinamool Congress government for doing away with Question Hour and accused it of double standards. And the Trinamool Congress, which has defended doing away with Question Hour in Bengal, has attacked the Centre for doing the same in Parliament.
The Assembly met for just three days last month (August 14, 21 and 24). Speaker C P Joshi said Question Hour was avoided as a safety precaution.“During the last three-day session, Question Hour didn’t take place primarily because of the fact that hundreds of officials from various departments come to the Assembly with their replies and data every time Question Hour takes place. We avoided that amid this Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
The BJP protested demanding Question Hour on the third day. Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria said: “During the first two meetings of the Business Advisory Committee, we didn’t demand Question Hour considering the gravity of the situation… But they decided to hold the session for a third day citing that important Bills were to be passed. This time we demanded Question Hour since the government itself appeared to be not in any hurry to end the session despite the pandemic. Our request was not granted and we protested inside the Assembly, sitting on a dharna. Several of our MLAs who sat in the dharna have tested positive for Covid-19.”
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The Assembly is meeting on September 9 and 10. There will be no Question Hour. “Having Question Hour would mean prolonging the session for which the MLAs would have to stay back for a longer period. We do not want that during this pandemic situation,” Speaker Biman Banerjee said.
The BJP has attacked the government for skipping Question Hour. “The Trinamool Congress is demanding Question Hour during the Parliament session, but it has decided not to include it in Assembly proceedings in West Bengal. This is nothing but double standards,” BJP legislature party leader Monoj Tigga said.
In fact, since the Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011, Question Hour had been suspended several times.
The party insists an 18-day “regular” Monsoon Session of Parliament cannot be compared to a two-day session of an Assembly. “You don’t allow Question Hour where ministers have to stand up and answer Qs from MPs and be held accountable. Now you only condescend to allow written Questions/Answers! Stop throwing crumbs. This is Parliament. Not the Gujarat Gymkhana,” the party’s Parliamentary Party leader in Rajya Sabha, Derek O’Brien, tweeted recently. The following day, he tweeted: “….Comparing a 20 day regular Parliament Monsoon Session to a two-day session of a State Assembly! Sessions of a few days in Parliament never Question Hour (except China war 1962). Don’t compare apples and oranges…..”
The Assembly held a one-day session on August 28, without Question Hour. At least 30 MLAs had tested positive before the session began, and four more after it ended. The Opposition had demanded a longer session and regular Question Hour.
“The Congress government was running away from answering questions of the Opposition by reducing the Monsoon Session to barely a few hours long,” Leader of the Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema said. It is the first time Question Hour has not been held during Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s tenure.
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Haryana too curtailed the Assembly session to a day, on August 26. Initially, the business circulated was for a two-day session, but the duration was eventually reduced to one sitting. Chief Minister ML Khattar, Speaker Gian Chand Gupta and at least four MLAs had tested positive, besides 10 persons posted at the Chief Minister’s residence, over a dozen Assembly employees and several more working at the Civil Secretariat.
The Congress had protested but later relented. “We demanded that Question Hour must be there, but since the circumstances were extraordinary, the government requested that it should be suspended. Since the Chief Minister and the Speaker had tested positive and various MLAs too had tested positive, we agreed to the government’s request in the BAC in the end,” Leader of the Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda said.
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A curtailed two-day Monsoon Session began Monday. Maharashtra Legislature Secretariat officials said that due to the curtailed session it was decided by all parties that Question Hour and calling attention motions would not be taken up.
There has been no precedent of Question Hour not being held during the present regime which assumed office in November 2019. There have been such instances, however, during special Assembly sessions held during the tenure of previous governments, including of the BJP.
A 12-day Assembly session began Monday, and Question Hour is listed.