NEW DELHI :
The upcoming monsoon session will not have its usual Question Hour, and neither will it take up the private members’ bill as Parliament readies to hold the nearly fortnight-long session while adhering to the social distancing norms. The move, which could also include a restricted Zero Hour discussion, has drawn criticism and protests from key opposition leaders who feel it will deny them the opportunity to raise issues of national importance.
The monsoon session of Parliament is scheduled to commence from from 14 September to 1 October. Both Houses of Parliament will sit for four hours each everyday without any breaks. The sitting of both the Houses will take place with a two-hour gap and would continue on all days including weekends.
Responding to criticism by opposition leaders, the union government on Wednesday said that all opposition parties were told beforehand about the move with most of them agreeing to it but added that it was not running away from debate.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi told PTI that the union government was ready for unstarred questions (which require written answers) and has requested presiding officers of both the Houses to facilitate it the same. “We are not running away from any debate and is ready to discuss any issue or topic which will be decided in the Business Advisory Committee,” Joshi said adding that there will be a Zero Hour of at least 30 minutes.
“There will be no Question Hour during the Session. 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,” as per a notification by Lok Sabha Secretariat.
A news report by Press Trust of India, quoting notifications by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats, said the Zero Hour, which is spent for raising key matters of importance, could also be restricted.
“…Continuing with Question Hour would have meant allowing number of ministry officials to be present in the Parliament and the visitors gallery is already being used to accommodate MPs. In such a situation it was not feasible to hold it. A call was taken that only the most basic parliamentary business would be prioritized,” a senior official of Rajya Sabha secretariat said requesting anonymity.
The move however has drawn the criticism from key opposition leaders including those from Congress, Trinamool Congress, Left Parties and Dravidra Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) who feel that suspension of particularly Question Hour would mean that there would be no space to ask questions on the Union government including those on the state of economy, handling of covid-19 pandemic, the nearly three month long national lockdown and border standoff with China.
“Parliament overall working hours remain same so why cancel Question Hour? Pandemic excuse to murder democracy,” senior TMC leader and Rajya Sabha member Derek O’ Brien posted on Twitter adding that only specific instances in the past of special sessions are there when the Question Hour was suspended and not for a regular session.
“Questioning the government is the oxygen of parliamentary democracy. This government seeks to reduce Parliament to a notice-board and uses its crushing majority as a rubber-stamp for whatever it wants to pass. The one mechanism to promote accountability has now been done away with,” senior Congress leader and Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor posted on Twitter.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and it’s alliance members of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) feel that these are extraordinary circumstances under which the monsoon session will be taking place so it was due to paucity of time that these decisions were taken by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
“The opposition parties are raising questions but it is a fact these are extraordinary circumstances. Both the Houses will be meeting for just four hours each. Where is the time? And then opposition also wants discussions, debates on issues like economy, management of pandemic, the developments in the Ladakh region with China. That is why a decision has been taken to curtail certain things and to facilitate debates and discussions,” said a senior BJP leader who is part of NDA’s floor management.
Senior leaders of the BJP-NDA also said that the allegations made by opposition parties were baseless and these decisions are taken by Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chairman and not by the union government.