Leaders of Opposition parties have opposed the suspension of Question Hour and private members’ bills in the upcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament, alleging it was an attempt by the Centre to deny opposition members an opportunity to raise questions on the state of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic.
The notifications issued by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats Wednesday said that there will be no Question Hour in the upcoming Session, which will be held from September 14 to October 1, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the Zero Hour would be restricted in both Houses.
“There will be no Question Hour during the Session. In view of the request of the Government owing to the prevailing extraordinary situation due to COVID-19, the Speaker has directed that no day be fixed for transaction of Private Members’ Business during the Session,” the Lok Sabha Secretariat said in a notification.
Both Houses will function on Saturdays and Sundays as well, the notifications said. The Session will be held in two shifts — 9 AM to 1 PM and 3 PM to 7 PM. Except for the first day, the Rajya Sabha will sit in the morning shift and the Lok Sabha will sit in the evening, according to the notifications.
Opposing the move, Trinamool Congress MP and Floor Leader in Rajya Sabha Derek O’ Brien said the opposition members will lose the right to question the government.
“Pandemic an excuse to murder democracy,” he said in a tweet.
O’ Brien said the Question Hour was cancelled in the past when Parliament was called for special sitting, but the upcoming monsoon Session was a “regular Session”.
“MPs required to submit Qs for Question Hour in #Parliament 15 days in advance. Session starts 14 Sept. So Q Hour cancelled ? Oppn MPs lose right to Q govt. A first since 1950 ? Parliament overall working hours remain same so why cancel Q Hour?Pandemic excuse to murder democracy,” he tweeted.
MPs required to submit Qs for Question Hour in #Parliament 15 days in advance. Session starts 14 Sept. So Q Hour cancelled ? Oppn MPs lose right to Q govt. A first since 1950 ? Parliament overall working hours remain same so why cancel Q Hour?Pandemic excuse to murder democracy
— Derek O’Brien | ডেরেক ও’ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) September 2, 2020
DMK leader Kanimozhi said the BJP government’s decision to suspend the Question Hour for an entire Session conveys just one message – “Even elected representatives have no right to question the government.”
BJP govt’s decision to suspend the Question Hour for an entire session conveys just one message – “Even elected representatives have no right to question the government”.
— Kanimozhi (கனிமொழி) (@KanimozhiDMK) September 2, 2020
Responding to the criticism, Union minister Prakash Javadekar said the Parliament session is being held under special and extraordinary circumstances.
“Parliamentary Affairs Minister is in touch with various political parties and is talking to their leaders. He will inform all about the issue at the right time,” Javadekar was quoted as saying by PTI.
Meanwhile, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi told the news that the government is not running away from any debate and that all opposition parties were told beforehand about the move with most of them agreeing to it.
The government is ready for unstarred questions and it has requested presiding officers of both the Houses to facilitate the same, he said.
Last week, Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Speaker Om Birla urging him not to curtail the Question Hour and the Zero Hour. He had said it will prevent lawmakers from raising issues of national importance.
However, his Congress colleague and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad had 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 had said.
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.