‘No Question Hour, Curtailed Zero Hour In Parliament’s Monsoon Session’

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    7th Sep, 2020

Context

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 decided.

About

What is Question Hour?

  • 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.
  • Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain.
  • Types of Questions: There are fourcategories of questions that can be asked in this period —
    • starred questions: Starred questions require an oral answer from the minister-in-charge and must be submitted 15 days in advance. 
    • unstarred questions: They require a written response and generally address concerns related to data and information, but do not allow supplementary questions. These too must be submitted 15 days in advance.
    • short notice questions: They address urgent matters that have public importance and can be submitted within less than 10 days. 
    • questions to private members:  They are usually related to “some Bill, Resolution or other matter connected with the business of the House for which that Member is responsible”.

Origin of the Hour

  • Over the last 70 years, MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning.
  • With the broadcasting of Question Hour since 1991, Question Hour has become one the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.
  • Asking questions of the government has a long history in our legislative bodies. Prior to Independence, the first question asked of government was in 1893.
  • It was on the burden cast on village shopkeepers who had to provide supplies to touring government officers.

What is Zero Hour?

  • While Question Hour is strictly regulated, Zero Hour is an Indian parliamentary innovation.
  • The phrase does not find mention in the rules of procedure. The concept of Zero Hour started organically in the first decade of Indian Parliament, when MPs felt the need for raising important constituency and national issues.
  • During the initial days, Parliament used to break for lunch at 1 pm. Therefore, the opportunity for MPs to raise national issues without an advance notice became available at 12 pm and could last for an hour until the House adjourned for lunch.
  • This led to the hour being popularly referred to as Zero Hour and the issues being raised during this time as Zero Hour submissions.
  • Over the years, presiding officers of both Houses have given directions to streamline the working of Zero Hour to make it even more effective.
  • Its importance can be gauged from the support it receives from citizens, media, MPs and presiding officers despite not being part of the rulebook.

When Question Hour was dropped amid extraordinary circumstances?

In the past, the Question Hour had been suspended during wars and the Emergency.

  • India-China war of 1962: During the India-China war of 1962, Parliament’s winter session had skipped the Question Hour.
  • 1971 War: During the 1971 war, too, the daily schedule was changed. From December 6 to 23 (due to Pakistani aggression), the Question Hour and Calling Attention matters were suspended,
  • The Emergency (June 25, 1975 –March 21, 1977): During the Emergency, imposed by the Indira Gandhi regime, Parliament continued to function but without Question Hour in at least two sessions.
    • The monsoon session of 1975 — the first after the declaration of the Emergency — didn’t have a Question Hour
    • The winter session of 1976, too, didn’t have a Question Hour.
      • Several constitutional amendments were cleared hurriedly during this period.
      • One of the most significant one was the 42nd Amendment that added the words “Socialist” and “Secular” to the Preamble to the Indian constitution.
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