Legislature In Havoc?
"Pandemic excuse to murder democracy"
The institution concerned with the law-making and legislation of the country, the Union Parliament has decided against conducting the ‘Question Hour’ in its Monsoon Session. The Monsoon Session is from 14th September-1st October 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the question hour has been sacked; the ‘zero hour’ is restricted in both the house of the parliament and no private members’ bills during the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament. Let’s understand the importance of both the question hour and zero hour.
Question Hour is when the 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. With the broadcasting of Question Hour since 1991, Question Hour has become one of the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.
Zero hour is an Indian Parliamentary invention. It has no mentions in the parliamentary 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. 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.
Through both these parliamentary procedures, the opposition has the power to raise questions and inquires about the policies and fallacies in the working of the government. In a democratic setup, criticism is necessary for the smooth functioning and prevention of autocracy. Especially, this Monsoon Session, question hour should have been imperative so as to question the government about the constant rise in the COVID cases, Chinese aggression into the Indian Territory and the ever-falling economy.
The BJP-led government has either stayed shut or tried painting a rosy image about the pressing issues in the country. Even the media has backed each claim of the Modi government and refrained from making any critical inquires about its working. Moreover, such a method has taken place for the first time in the history of the Union Parliament. Rightfully, it has attracted anger from the opposition’s side for their duty has been dropped in this process.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “I said four months ago that strongmen leaders would use the excuse of the pandemic to stifle democracy and dissent. The notification for the delayed Parliament session blandly announces there will be no Question Hour. How can this be justified in the name of keeping us safe,"
Senior Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on Friday to mark his protest. The BJP-led government has time and again avoided and crushed criticism. Even during the Anti-CAA protests, the activists and student leaders were either detained or arrested or aggressively slammed with the UAPA. The leaders of Jammu and Kashmir were put under house arrest during the abrogation process of Article 370. Journalists have time and again been served with notices for writing against the government. The UP Police picked up Prashant Kanojia for “objectionable comments against the CM” in his social media posts.
Even State Legislative Assemblies have shown a surprising pattern in recent times. Large states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have shown a decrease in the number of sessions of the state assembly. The UP State Assembly has met twice this year for brief time periods. A brief one-day session was convened in December 2019 to ratify the bill to extend reservation to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in legislatures for another 10 years. The assembly last met in February for its Budget Session which started on 13th February and the Yogi-led government were to table the budget on 18th February 2020. This Monsoon Session took place on the 20th of August 2020 and lasted up to three days only.
Even in Haryana, such a pattern has been observed. The monsoon session of the Haryana Assembly ended in 2 hours and 48 minutes on 26th August 2020 amid a boycott by the Congress which claimed it was not given time to raise the “burning issues” concerning the people of the state. The Business Advisory Committee decided to curtail the session keeping in view the Covid-19 pandemic. It is interesting to see the reduction of the duration of sessions in such large states of the country. However, it must be noted that the assembly must convene a session in less than six months.
The curtailing of parliamentary procedures in the parliament while is shocking but not surprising for the BJP-led government has shown a certain attitude towards criticism and dissent. Even in the view of the pandemic when a ceremony to lay down a stone for the construction of the Ram Mandir was possible by the Prime Minister, a setting should have worked out to conduct the most important parliamentary procedures too.