No Question Hour, curtailed Zero Hour in Parliament’s monsoon session; Oppn cries foul

There will be no Question Hour, a curtailed Zero Hour and no private members’ bills during the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats have decided, prompting opposition leaders to accuse the government of trying to “murder the democracy” in the name of the COVID-19 pandemic and of reducing “Parliament to a notice board”.
In separate notifications, the two secretariats also said there will be no breaks as well during the session to be held from September 14 to October 1, and both Houses will function on Saturdays and Sundays as well.
In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the session will be held in two shifts — 9 AM to 1 PM and 3 PM to 7 PM.
Except for the first day, the Rajya Sabha will sit in the morning shift and the Lok Sabha will sit in the evening, according to the notifications.
“There will be no Question Hour during the Session. In view of the request of the government owing to the prevailing extraordinary situation due to COVID-19, the Speaker has directed that no day be fixed for the’transaction of Private Members’ Business during the Session,” the Lok Sabha Secretariat said in a notification.
A similar notification was issued by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat as well.
On the move to dispense with the Question Hour, Trinamool Congress MP and Floor Leader in Rajya Sabha Derek O’ Brien said opposition MPs will lose the right to question the government and alleged that the pandemic was being used as an “excuse to murder democracy.” In the past, he said, the Question Hour was dispensed with during sessions of Parliament called for special purposes but the upcoming monsoon session is a “regular session”.
According to sources, the government has reached out to the Opposition, sharing its compulsions to not hold the Question Hour in wake of the pandemic.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has called up several opposition leaders, including Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, Chowdhury, Biju Janata Dal’s Pinaki Misra and O’Brien.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted that he had said four months ago that “strongmen leaders would use the excuse of the pandemic to stifle democracy and 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? “Questioning the government is the oxygen of parliamentary democracy. This Govt 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,” he tweeted.
The Congress party also tweeted separately that questioning the government is the “life-blood of parliamentary democracy”.
“By doing away with this tool of accountability, the BJP Govt seeks to pass laws without any discussion and debate. It is an attempt to stifle democracy under the garb of the pandemic,” it added.
O’Brien said question hours are significant because issues raised during this time are answered by the minister concerned which is not the case in the Zero Hour.
He said questions are also asked from the treasury benches and the move to suspend the question hour would mean that the government was also “denying their own MPs to raise their queries”.
“This means that we cannot ask any questions on the state of the economy or the pandemic,” he said.
The Trinamool Congress leader cited examples of the 33rd (1961), 93rd (1975), 98th (1976) 99th (1977) sessions when there was no Question Hour as those sessions were summoned for special purposes of “Orissa, Proclamation of Emergency, 44th Amdmt, President’s Rule TN/Nagaland”. But the upcoming monsoon session is a regular one, he added.
CPI MP Binoy Viswam has also written to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Nadu, saying that suspension of Question Hour and Private Members’ business is “unjust” and they must be reinstated immediately.
Viswam said suspending these parliamentary procedures raises “serious questions” on the “intent” of the government at a time crucial developments continue to take place across the country. “By introducing these changes, the Government has effectively ensured that its accountability to the Parliament and to the people is done away with,” he said.
He said that the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown had brought an abrupt end to the Parliamentary session in March.
‘Since then the Parliament has been in a state of suspension while crucial developments continue to take place across the country. The Parliament has finally been proposed to reconvene on September 14, 2020. However, the recent changes to parliamentary procedures that were released on September 1 raise serious questions regarding the intent of this Government,” Viswam said in a statement.