Question Hour in upcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament

GS 2- POLITY – Parliament-Conduct of Business

Introduction 

    India is a Parliamentary democracy where the executive is accountable to the electorate through a legislature which in turn is periodically elected by the people.This accountability, which lies at the heart of democratic governance, is implemented through procedures put in place by the legislature.

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Procedures through Executive held accountable by Legislature

  • Lawmaking: Delineating the powers of the executive.
  • Controlling the National Finances through approval of taxation and expenditure proposals.
  • Having discussion on matters of public importance through:
    • questions
    • adjournment motion
    • calling attention motion
    • half-an-hour discussion
    • motion of no confidence
    • questions of privilege

Question Hour

         The Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business provides that the first hour of every sitting shall be available for the asking and answering of questions. Questions are of 4 types:

  • Starred Questions: Questions to which answers are desired to be given orally on the floor of the House during the Question Hour.
  • Unstarred Questions: Questions to which written answers are given by Ministers which are deemed to have been laid on the Table of the House at the end of the Question Hour.
  • Short Notice Questions: Such questions can be asked orally in the House and are asked by giving a notice of less than 10 days.
  • Supplementary Questions: Questions which arise out of a Minister’s answer to a Starred or Short Notice Question. These can be asked with the Chair’s permission immediately after the Minister has answered the main question, for the purpose of further elucidating any matter of fact.

Importance

  • Basis of equality to every Member of the House.
  • Covers every aspect of government activity.
  • Questions are generally ‘pointed, specific and confined to one issue only’, they tend to elicit specific information from the government.
  • Adds to public information essential to informed debates on matters of interest or concern.

Recent Issue

     The government announcement that there will be no Question Hour Sessions in the Parliament.( Reason: situation created by COVID19)(ie curtailment of the right to question the government.)

Additional points:

Criticism

  • Right of parliamentarians to demand answers from the council of ministers is essential to maintain parliamentary democracy.(Accountability of the executive to the legislature.)
  • Will remove the only avenue which obliges ministers to immediately respond to queries from the MPs.
  • Parliament is the beacon of legislative functioning and its functioning will set the precedent for Vidhan sabhas to follow in the future.
  • The rest of the business of Houses was tightly controlled and set by the government.(only Question hour holds Government Accountable)
  • Not a good sign in democratic principles especially in a parliamentary democracy.
  • Not discussed with leaders of political parties and groups.

Way Forward

     The procedures could have been changed to allow a starred question on the pretext that follow-ups should be given in writing. These follow-ups could have been answered the next day. 

Conclusion

       The Chairman and the Speaker unquestionably have the final word on matters relating to the proceedings of their respective Houses.Executive accountability upfront cannot be allowed to become a thing of the past.

A resort to what has been called ‘the politics of avoidance’ does not help the process. Executive accountability upfront cannot be allowed to become a thing of the past.

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