Restore Question Hour, 858 people petition Lok Sabha Speaker
The letter points out that the state assemblies of Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana and Chhattisgarh held sessions complete with Question Hour, despite the pandemic
Students, business people, academics, journalists, lawyers, teachers and government servants were on a list of 858 people who petitioned the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha against the suspension of Question Hour in the Monsoon Session of Parliament, from September 14 to October 1. The official bulletin announcing this was issued on September 1, explaining that given the situation of the COVID pandemic, some procedures would be altered.
“But, it is precisely because of the present unprecedented situation due to the pandemic that the need for holding Question Hour has become even more pertinent and must be reinstated immediately,” the letter states.
“Sir, you will concur with us when we assert that one of the main functions of Parliament in a democracy is to seek accountability from the executive on behalf of the people and Parliament. Questions are the most potent tools in that regard. There exists no other platform like the floor of Parliament for the people to question the executive, through their representatives. As per settled convention also, it is only in very exceptional cases that Question Hour may be dispensed with as Presiding Officers are known to rarely exercise this power, and that too only when the Houses unanimously agree. It may also interest you to note that the rare past precedents of exercise of this power to suspend Question Hour indicate that the exceptional circumstances included a session called following aggression by Chinese (1962), a period when democracy itself was being tested (1975 and 1976) and when special sessions were called for the purpose of seeking vote of confidence (7th & 16th November, 1990 and 21st & 22nd July, 2008). The current situation, though unprecedented, shouldn’t become a reason for suspension of procedures which help advance deliberative democracy.”
The letter points out that the state assemblies of Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana and Chhattisgarh held sessions complete with Question Hour, despite the pandemic. In the UK and Canada, MPs gathered virtually to question their government. A government open to answering questions would also inspire greater confidence, the letter states.
Among signatories are Annie Raja of the National Federation of Indian Women; Anupama Datta, director of HelpAge India; political science teacher Avinash Kumar of JNU; retired History teacher at JNU Janaki Nair; Christina Samy of Swaraj India; retired Army officer Col Jason Peter VSM; Dr Ashok Dhawale, president of the All India Kisan Sabha, Dr Gopal Dabade of Drug Action Forum, Karnataka, and former MP Malini Bhattacharya.
Not only has Question Hour been suspended, Zero Hour, when MPs raise issues that concern their constituency or matters of public interest, has been shrunk to a Half Hour. The suspension of Private Members Business is also problematic, as Parliament is not meant exclusively to deliberate bills proposed by the government.
Several Opposition MPs have already raised the matter. CPI’s Rajya Sabha member Binoy Viswam wrote to Rajya Sabha chairman and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu reminding him that Question Hour and other
instruments like the calling attention motion were integral to democratic functioning. “By introducing these changes, the government has effectively ensured that its accountability to Parliament and the people is done away with,” he wrote. Suspension of Question Hour has never happened in India before, except during wars or the Emergency.