The Constitution requires Parliament to hold sessions not more than six months apart. The Budget Session of Parliament ended on March 23. It was curtailed by 12 days due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Now, Parliament is ready for the Monsoon Session from September 14 but with certain conditions in place.
The Question Hour has been done away with. This has led to a sharp pushback against the Narendra Modi government from the Opposition.
While Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress called it “murder of democracy” on the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic, Shashi Tharoor of the Congress said, “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.”
This is the first time since 1977 that a Parliament Session will not have a scheduled Question Hour, where ministers are forced to give verbal answers to questions asked by the members. And, it is the first ever regular Parliament Session to have no Question Hour.
PARLIAMENT SESSIONS WITHOUT QUESTION HOUR
The four occasions when a Parliament Session did not have a Question Hour were all special sessions. The first instance was in 1961, when a special session of Parliament — namely, 33rd — was convened for the passage of the Budget for Odisha (then called Orissa). The state was under the President’s Rule and its Budget needed the approval of Parliament.
The second instance is still debated for its controversial purpose — the proclamation of National Emergency under Article 352 during non-war time. It happened in 1975 when 93 session of Parliament was held for approving the President’s proclamation of Emergency.
The next instance was the 98th session of Parliament in 1976 when the 42nd Amendment Act was passed. It came down to be known as mini constitution for sweeping changes that it brought including insertion of words, “socialist” and “secular” in the Preamble to the Constitution.
It also extended the term of the Lok Sabha to six years. The 44th Amendment Act in 1978 reversed many of the changes approved by Parliament in its 1976 special session.
And, the last time Parliament did away with the Question Hour in its session was in 1977, when it sat to approve the extension of President’s Rule in Nagaland and Tamil Nadu.
These were all special sessions, convened for special purposes. The government says the upcoming Monsoon Session is a special one given the context of a raging pandemic.
The Opposition is not willing to buy the argument as it plans to corner the government over the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic situation, the economic contraction and the military standoff with China among other issues.
WHAT IS QUESTION HOUR?
The Question Hour is the first hour of a Parliament sitting, during which the members hold the government of the day accountable forcing it to answer questions of public importance.
The convention of having a Question Hour dates back to early British colonial days in India. The Constitution continued with the tradition to ensure that the government remains answerable to the people of the country.
Three types of questions can be asked in starred, unstarred and short-notice questions. Starred and unstarred questions require a 10-day notice for the minister to answer.
Short-notice questions can be asked any time if the issue is considered urgent in public interest but the Speaker holds the right to allow or reject the question. There is a fourth type of questions that are addressed to private members (non-ministers).
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi, however, has said the government is not running away from debate and discussion or even the questions. He said the government is ready to face unstarred questions.
Unstarred questions are those which get written answers from concerned departments. The minister is not required to stand on the floor of the house and answer the question orally, which is what happens in the case of starred questions.
The last sitting of the Monsoon Session of Parliament will be held on October 1.