Scrapping Question Hour Is Another Step to Whittle Down the Legislature
Series of steps
Even as the government is determined to go ahead with scrapping the Question Hour in Parliament during the monsoon session beginning on September 14 the process of whittling down the relevance of the highest forum of democracy started much earlier.
While official sources of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have made it clear that there will not be any Question Hour during the monsoon session in view of the Covid-19 pandemic,and that Zero Hour will be restricted in both the Houses, the current dispensation has hardly shown any interest in encouraging the parliamentary spirit since 2014.
The first step, seemingly innocuous but not seen as such by senior journalists covering Parliament for decades, was the decision to stop providing giving copies of the annual Budget to media persons covering parliamentary proceedings. This was followed by discontinuing the , t the practice of providing copies of the Economic Survey to reporters asking them to download it from the official sites. After that, reports of the Parliamentary Standing Committees too were unavailable to the Fourth Estate.
And now, according to the sources, they want to restrict the entry of the media in Parliament House.
If the Opposition is finding it difficult to get its space, members of the ruling party privately concede that they too are prevented to raise, discuss issues of public importance in their parliamentary party meetings attended by the Prime Minister and top BJP leaders.
The Lok Sabha does not have a recognised Leader of Opposition .This is because the main Opposition Congress is short of numbers required to get the post of LoP. But the ruling party which came to power on the slogan of Congress Mukta Bharat, refusing to be magnanimous on this issue as many members expected.. And this led to further strained relations between the government and Opposition inside and outside Parliament.
Earlier, Prime Minister used to remain present in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha at least twice in a week, intervening during important debates, taking part in the Question Hour, encouraging new members. But this is hardly seen now.
The BJP might be uncomfortable with the parliamentary form of democracy ideologically but its MPs were said to have been ‘advised ‘ not to mingle with opposition MPs in the Parliament House. And the Covid pandemic has given the ruling party and the government an opportunity to tighten the grip over parliament, MPs, media and other organs enjoying freedom inside and outside the two Houses.
Curtailing the duration of session, disallowing Opposition MPs to raise issues in the House under different excuses is not a healthy sign of democracy. But if the government is not sensitive towards the Opposition then how can the presiding officials expected to be accommodative. Many opposition members privately say how they were disallowed to raise issues which could make the government uncomfortable.
Question Hour is the liveliest hour in Parliament. It is during this one hour that Members of Parliament ask questions of ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries. The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.
Over the last 70 years, MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning. Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain. With the broadcasting of Question Hour since 1991, Question Hour has become one the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning and is an integral part of the functioning of our legislative bodies.