The government also clarified that unstarred questions – written questions – will be submitted to members. No “starred” questions – oral questions as follow-ups to the written queries – will be permitted during the question hour, said sources in the speaker’s office. Typically, ministers concerned respond to oral questions on the floor of the House.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi said the decision to scrap the question hour during the coming session was taken after most opposition parties gave their consent. The government argued that accommodating question hour would require the presence of a large number of officials, which would make it difficult to observe social distancing protocols in the officials’ gallery.
“Opposition parties are raising questions regarding question hour and zero hour. Arjun Ram Meghwal, V Muraleedharan and I had spoken to every party regarding this and except for TMC’s Derek O’Brien, everyone agreed to scrap question hour,” Joshi said. The minister added that he has now suggested to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu to limit zero hour to 30 minutes. “They will take the final decision. We have also requested the speaker to take unstarred questions,” he added.
The move to drop the question hour in the already-curtailed monsoon session of Parliament had triggered a row with opposition leaders referring to it an assault on democracy.
While Congress’s leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had written to Birla opposing the move, Rajya Sabha LoP Ghulam Nabi Azad had agreed that it would be difficult to accommodate the question hour since the House would sit for only four hours a day. Congress’s Anand Sharma, however, had tweeted his reservations, calling the decision “arbitrary, shocking and undemocratic”. “Parliament sessions are not meant only for government business but also scrutiny and accountability of government,” he said on Twitter.
The monsoon session of Parliament is scheduled to begin on September 14 and continue till October 1. While Lok Sabha will sit from 9am on the opening day, it will convene from 3pm to 7 pm for all subsequent sittings. Opposition MPs had contended that with the question hour scrapped and the zero hour curtailed to 30 minutes, they would have little or no opportunity to raise and discuss matters important to their constituencies and the country. O’Brien, among the most vocal of the lot, accused the government of “murdering democracy” in the name of coronavirus.