Parliament monsoon session: Written questions get nod
The unstarred questions will have to be submitted to the secretariat and answers will be provided on the day the question is listed (it will also be uploaded on the website), the people familiar with the matter said.
Unstarred questions, or written questions that ministers need to reply to, will be allowed during the monsoon session of Parliament, but question hour will remain cancelled, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The decision has been taken at a time when Opposition parties have strongly protested against the move to not schedule question hour, calling the decision an attempt by the government to avoid being questioned, and describing it as an attempt to curb their rights.
The unstarred questions will have to be submitted to the secretariat and answers will be provided on the day the question is listed (it will also be uploaded on the website), the people cited above said.
owever, oral or starred questions will not be allowed -- in the interests of time, and to ensure that the number of people in Parliament is kept low (when a question from a ministry is listed to be asked as a starred one, key officials of the ministry are expected to be in Parliament).
The session may also not allow private member bills—through which MPs seek policy or legislative changes—and the Zero Hour during which MPs raise current issues, might be limited to just half an hour. These changes have been necessitated by the fact that the session is happening against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to surge across India. The budget session of Parliament ended on March 23. The monsoon session, which usually starts around mid-July, is now scheduled to start on September 14 and end on October 1.
“I have suggested to the Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chairman to keep the duration of the zero hour at 30 minutes. They will take the final decision. Govt is ready to have discussions on every issue. We have also requested the Speaker to take unstarred questions,” said parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi.
This is the first time in the recent history of Parliament when the Opposition has questioned the process of a session apart from the usual political objections to the government policies.
Question Hour, which normally lasts 60 minutes provides the only window for guaranteed answers from ministers and help MPs hold the government accountable in Parliament.
Joshi defended the move to scrap Question Hour and claimed that almost all parties agreed to this arrangement. “Opposition parties are raising questions regarding question hour and zero hour. Arjun Ram Meghwal, V Muraleedharan & I spoke to every party regarding this and except for the TMC’s Derek O’Brien, everyone agreed [to scrap question hour],” he said.
Earlier in the day, Trinamool’s Rajya Sabha floor leader Derek O’Brien 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.”
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted: “I said four months ago that strongmen leaders would use the excuse of the pandemic to stifle democracy&dissent. The notification for the delayed Parliament session blandly announces there will be no Question Hour. How can this be justified in the name of keeping us safe?”
Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mahtab maintained that “Question Hour is the individual right of elected members to make the government accountable. So if there is no Question Hour, individual members’ rights are curtailed. Some methodology should be found. Discussion under rule 193 that doesn’t entail a voting is good but sometimes the minister have not replied to such a debate.”
The BJP hit back by claiming that the uproar over the suspension of Question Hour is “hypocrisy” by members of the opposition.
A BJP functionary said with Parliament convening only for 4 hours daily, it is natural there is a paucity of time and Question Hour has been cancelled but that unstarred questions will be allowed.
The BJP also defended the move by stating that State assemblies have functioned after March without question hour in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
“BJP is in opposition in most of these states and it did not raise a hue and cry there,” the functionary added on condition of anonymity.
Frequent disruptions during the session were also flagged by the BJP, which cited that in the last eight sessions, out of the 162 hours allotted for Question Hour, only 59 hours were used and more than 102 hours were lost due to disruptions and adjournment.
MPs may also not be allowed to bring private member bills. A Lok Sabha circular said, “In view of the request of the government owing to 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.”
“Question hour is when governments are held accountable. it is part of the basic structure of parliamentary democracy. And the argument that Question Hour means presence of many officials in Parliament also incorrect as officials are not needed if ministers come prepared I never depended on officials”, said Congress leader and former minister Jairam Ramesh.
DMK’s Kanimoshi tweeted, “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”.
Experts stressed on the importance of Question Hour.
“The simple act of MPs asking questions of the government is the cornerstone of government accountability to parliament. Combined with zero hour it is an aspect of parliamentary functioning where MPs participation is not based on party politics. Questions be it starred or unstarred also open up data about the working and thinking of the government. Since the beginning of this Lok Sabha, approximately 15000 have been asked and answered,” said Chakshu Roy, head of PRS Legislative Research.