Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Congress leader in Lok Sabha, has written a letter to Speaker Om Birla expressing concern over the “proposal for curtailing the Question Hour as well as the Zero Hour” to maintain Covid protocols during Parliament’s Monsoon Session next month.
In his letter, Chowdhury said efforts being made to ensure that the Session is held without any hindrance to the safety and health of Members is “truly appreciable”. But, he wrote, “raising questions in Parliament, and issues of public importance during the Zero Hour, are foremost of the procedural methods available to Members to vent issues of national and public importance”.
“Curtailing the Question Hour and the Zero Hour by way of restricting the number of issues that could be raised and time earmarked would, therefore, not be in the interest of the elected representatives. This is more so in the current times. I would, therefore, urge upon you to ensure that no curtailing of any kind is placed in regard to the Question Hour and the Zero Hour in the ensuing session and Members are permitted to raise questions and issues, as are normally permissible when the Parliament is in Session,” he wrote.
However, when contacted by The Indian Express, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said the Session is “being held in totally extraordinary circumstances” and that to “accommodate a normal day’s business in half a day is impossible”.
“Parliament is being conducted in totally different circumstances and I know the type of pressure that is there on the Chairman and the Speaker. They have to ensure the safety and security of Parliamentarians. The Chairman and the Speaker have been working for the last two months. The Chairman has been talking to me and consulting me as Leader of the Opposition. So, I know,” Azad said.
“I can also say that it is very difficult to tell the two presiding officers to accommodate the entire business, which was being done earlier from 11 am to 6 pm. Since each House is going to work only for half a day, some business will have to be curtailed. Now, if they are able to accommodate Question Hour, I will be happy but we should also be ready to understand that it is going to be a half-day session, and in half a day how much can be accommodated, how much can be adjusted…That also is understandable,” he said.
Azad said that such a Session will be held “for the first time in independent India”. “Definitely, you can’t find the same provision and same perfection in conducting the proceedings of both Houses as we normally do. So, whatever is humanly possible under the present circumstances, they will have to do and I have no objection if both the Houses can adjust the Question Hour. I will be happy and I will welcome but at the same time we should realise that this is a special kind of session being held in extraordinary circumstances…”
The divergence in opinion comes four days after Azad and Chowdhury were on opposite sides at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting that acknowledged a letter written by 23 party leaders seeking an organisational overhaul, including a permanent party chief.
Azad was one of the signatories to the letter to interim chief Sonia Gandhi, and Chowdhury was among those who criticised its authors during the CWC meeting.
On Thursday, Gandhi set up two groups to “facilitate and ensure the effective functioning” of the party in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
According to sources, each House will meet in separate shifts of four hours every day with members occupying both Chambers to ensue social distancing.
Both Question Hour and Zero Hour and key elements of Parliament Sessions.
During Question Hour, Members can ask starred and unstarred questions to the Government. Starred questions are answered orally on the floor of the House by the Minister concerned. The Member is also entitled to ask two supplementary questions. For unstarred questions, written answers are given by Ministers and deemed to have been tabled in the House.
During Zero Hour, members can, with prior notice to the Chair, raise important issues.