Opposition, experts rue lack of question hour in Rajasthan Assembly
The Rajasthan Assembly session, which began on August 14, was adjourned sine die on Monday after three sittings but without the question and zero hours. The Opposition legislators were prompt to say that the sole purpose of the session was to prove the government’s majority. Experts said if lawmakers cannot hold the government to account in Assembly, it was was a dangerous trend for democracy.
The government and the Assembly management said the question and zero hours were disallowed in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Assembly session convened on August 14 when the Ashok Gehlot government moved and won the confidence motion by voice vote. This followed more than a month-long political turmoil arising out of the rebellion by former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and 18 other Congress MLAs.
The Assembly was adjourned until August 21 and when it reconvened that day, there was only discussion on Covid-19 situation in the state, no question or zero hour was allowed. The same happened on Monday, during the third sitting of the Assembly when 13 bills were passed in the House but no discussion on them took place even as the Opposition boycotted the business advisory committee’s (BAC) meeting over five bills tabled on Monday itself.
The government tabled eight bills on August 21 and five on Monday; all were passed amid protest by the Opposition. Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria said they didn’t have enough time to study the new bills. The Opposition also staged a walkout.
BJP MLA Kalicharan Saraf, who is a member of the BAC, said, “Not holding question and zero hour is unjustified. It is happening only because the government has the mandate. We protested in the BAC meeting, too. The government wanted to have this assembly session only for the trust vote and is unconcerned about public issues.”
Two other BJP MLAs echoed the sentiment.
Pratap Singh Singhvi said it is in the question and zero hour that lawmakers could grill ministers over issues of public interest. “The state is in the grip of locust invasion, parents are protesting over school fee, there’s the issue of unemployment – there was so much that we wanted to discussed but the session became a mere formality,” he said.
Jogeshwar Garg accused the government of misusing its mandate in the BAC. “It called the session for its own requirement,” he added.
According to the Assembly website, there are around 1,200 questions for the session, including the starred ones. Twenty-five starred questions were listed on Monday.
Assembly Speaker CP Joshi said everyone wanted the session to be longer but the BAC decided against it because of the rising number of Covid-19 cases. “There was no intention to prevent the Opposition from raising questions and seeking a reply from the government but the question and zero hour would have led to the inflow of more people in the Assembly,” he said in the House.
“No state assembly across the country is holding question or zero hour because of this,” he added. The speaker said that in Bihar, a one-day session happened and around 13 bills were passed. Even in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the speaker will take a call to take question hour or not.
“The session will be called again once the situation improves and all issues will be discussed,” the Speaker said while addressing the House.
Chief whip Mahesh Joshi also blamed the pandemic for not holding question and zero hour. “During these, department officials and staff are required to be in the Assembly and we wanted to prevent the flow of more people,” he said.
But political commentator Narayan Bareth said that in the democratic system, questions are most important as they hold the government to account. “There is no democracy if there aren’t questions,” he said. “It’s not about the Congress or the BJP; they both are equal. It’s a dangerous trend of not addressing questions,” he added.
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