Monday’s four-hour session of the Lok Sabha on the first day of Monsoon Session was, in a way, dominated by the pandemic. From members arriving in masks to their seats rearranged in keeping seating with physical distancing norms, and from Opposition members’ criticism of the move to do away with Question Hour to repeated reminders by Speaker Om Birla that the House is meeting in an “extraordinary situation”, the pandemic loomed large over the proceedings.
More than two dozen MPs belonging to various parties tested positive, sources confirmed. The Lok Sabha secretariat refused to divulge details.
Contrary to apprehension, the turnout seemed to have surprised secretariats of both Houses. In Lok Sabha, Birla expressed satisfaction over the elaborate preparations and cooperation he received from MPs, cutting across party lines. “I am happy that MPs in large numbers have turned up,” he said.
Sources said more than 300 MPs attended the proceedings.
When the House met after adjourning for an hour following obituary references to deceased members, including former President Pranab Mukherjee, the Opposition criticised the government vehemently. As Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said that the decision to do away with Question Hour was to keep “movement of officials to bare minimum”, Congress leader of House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the “arguments and rationale” cited for cancelling it was “far from convincing”. He said, “Question Hour is the essence of Parliamentary democracy… because it makes the executive answerable and accountable.”
Fellow Congress MP Manish Tewari cited the book ‘Parliamentary Practice and Procedure of Parliament’, by M N Kaul and S L Sakhdher, to point out that the House should unanimously agree to do away with Question Hour.
AIMIM member Asaduddin Owaisi also said Question Hour is “essential for the existence of Parliamentary democracy”.
The government argued that the Parliamentary Affairs minister as well as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh have had discussions with the Opposition over the move.
The Zero Hour – halved from one hour —also saw the pandemic figure in many issues raised. BJP member Bhanu Pratap Verma (Jalaun) and Congress’s V K Sreekandan (Palakkad) wanted resumption of railway services, cancelled during the lockdown, in their constituencies. Apna Dal MP Anupriya Patel asked the government to help students who are unable to acquire laptop or tablet for online classes by enhancing DTH services to rural areas.
In his detailed statement on the Covid-19 situation, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the battle against the virus is far from over and stressed the need to continue precautionary measures. On a vaccine against Covid-19, Vardhan said: “Globally, around 145 candidate vaccines are in pre-clinical evaluation and 35 vaccines in clinical trial. In India…more than 30 vaccine candidates have been supported, which are in different stages of development.”
RS adopts motion to do away with Question Hour
In Rajya Sabha, opposition parties appealed to the government to not do away with Question Hour and said questioning the government lies at the heart of democracy.
After Pralhad Joshi moved a motion to suspend rules relating to starred questions and private members’ business in Rajya Sabha, TMC leader Derek O’Brien, who moved an amendment to the motion, said, “It (Question Hour) is the heart of Parliamentary democracy; it is the only one hour every day where the Opposition questions the ministers.”
O’Brien said Question Hour has never been suspended before “in a regular session”; it has “only happened during the Chinese incursion in 1962 and during the Emergency maybe,” he said.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said since “people have no access or means to pass questions to a minister inside Parliament,” their representatives — the MPs — ask questions on their behalf.
Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said he, too, is keen to have the Question Hour but “we are meeting in extraordinary times”.
On doing away with Question Hour, Naidu said, “…there were a number of instances when it has been done. I do not want to join the debate with anybody…. In 1962, 1975, 1976, 1991, 2001 — it has been done umpteen number of times. I am not justifying that on that account.”
O’Brien’s amendment was rejected and government’s motion to suspend Question Hour for the session was adopted.—With Krishn Kaushik
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