Parliament will meet on September 14, 2020 after a long time. But the Monsoon session will be a truncated one, and most importantly, the session will not have Question Hour, and only a curtailed Zero Hour. This article will discuss the importance of question hour in India’s parliamentary democracy and all the related aspects.
- The President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind in exercise of his powers conferred under Article 85 of the Constitution of India, on 31st August, 2020 summoned the fourth session of the 17th Parliament from 14th September to 1st October, 2020.
- The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats were notified that there will be no Question Hour during the Monsoon Series of Parliament, necessitated by the current Covid-19 Pandemic.
Importance of Question Hour
- The Government is put on its trial during the Question Hour and every Minister whose turn it is to answer questions has to stand up and answer for his or his administration’s acts of omission and commission.
- Through the Question Hour the Government is able to quickly feel the pulse of the nation and adapt its policies and actions accordingly.
- It is through questions in the Parliament that the Government remains in touch with the people in as much as members are enabled thereby to ventilate the grievances of the public in matters concerning the administration.
- Questions enable Ministries to gauge the popular reaction to their policy and administration.
- Questions bring to the notice of the Ministers many loopholes which otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
- Sometimes questions may lead to the appointment of a Commission, a Court of Inquiry or even Legislation when matters raised by Members are grave enough to agitate the public mind and are of wide public importance.
In practice Question Hour Is far More Important for Opposition Parties
- On paper, Question Hour gives space for MPs from both the ruling and opposition parties. MPs from all parties can ask questions.
- Zero Hour is unique to Indian parliamentary system. Like question hour, it is also a space open to all MPs. During Zero hours, MPs can raise matters of urgent public importance.
- But in practice, both Question Hour and Zero Hour are far more important for Opposition MPs than those from the ruling party.
- By asking questions, opposition parties try to hold the Government accountable.
- The move to hold parliament session with question hour seems to be guided by the view that Parliament is a forum transaction of government business.
- The latest move downplays Parliament’s role as a platform for the people’s representatives to ask questions and the Opposition to hold the government to account.
- Importance of zero hour and question has become very crucial at this juncture, as in in the name of controlling the Covid pandemic, the executive is appropriating more powers, So many guidelines, rules and regulations have been issued without the sanction of Parliament.
- There has been greater tendency on the part of the Government to short circuit debate and deliberation.
Parliaments in Britain and Other Countries Introduce Innovative Measures
- Parliaments the world over have introduced some changes to adapt to the COVID outbreak. However, the other major Parliaments UK or New Zealand, have not cancelled their sessions.
- Instead of changing the schedule of parliament sessions and reducing the duration, only modalities have been changed.
- For instance, in Britain, parliaments were allowed to ask questions to the Prime Minister in the chamber and remotely.
- Even within the country, Question Hour has not been done away with by all state assemblies. Rajasthan and UP did not have a Question Hour, others like Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh did.
Types Of Questions
Both Houses of the Parliament follow their own set of rules which are formulated to govern themselves. The parliament has categorized questions asked in the parliament in different types and they are:
- Starred Questions: The answers to these questions are desired to be given orally on the floor of the House during the Question Hour.
- Unstarred Questions: The answers to these questions which are deemed to have been laid on the Table of the House are given by Ministers at the end of the Question Hour in a written form.
- Short Notice Questions: These questions are asked orally in the House after the Question Hour or as the first item in the agenda where there is no Question Hour at a notice shorter than that prescribed for Starred and Unstarred Questions.
- Questions to Private Members: This Question is addressed to a Private Member (As per Rule 40 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha), provided that the subject matter of the question relates to some Bill, Resolution or other matter connected with the business of the House for which that Member is responsible.
- Questions have to be limited to 150 words.
- Questions have to be precise and not too general.
- The question should also be related to an area of responsibility of the Government of India.
- Questions should not seek information about matters that are secret or are under adjudication before courts.
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How is Question Hour regulated?
There have been compressive rules which deal with all aspects of Question Hour. The presiding officers of the two houses have the final say in the matter related to the conduct of Question Hour. For example, usually Question Hour is the first hour of a parliamentary sitting. In 2014, Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari shifted Question Hour in the House from 11 am to 12 noon.