top of page

Why does Question Hour matter?

In view of the COVID 19 pandemic, on Wednesday, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha secretariats notified that there will be no question hour during the Monsoon session of the Parliament.

Parliament. (Source: ANI News)

The opposition has raised concerns over this and accused the government of hiding away from questions. The question hour is one of the most important elements in the functioning of a parliamentary democracy. During this one hour, the Members of Parliament ask questions to the Ministers and hold them accountable for their actions.

Question hour has been used as an efficient parliamentary device by MPs to raise questions regarding public welfare which keeps democracy in check. Over the last 70 years, this device has been successful in exposing financial irregularities and in bringing to the public domain important information regarding the functioning of the government.

After the government was accused of stifling the voice of the opposition, it said that it would allow unstarred questions- which are written questions which receive written responses. Unstarred questions will be inadequate to properly hold the government accountable and thus it can in no way replace the customary question hour which consists of both starred and unstarred questions. Starred questions require a verbal response from the ministers and are generally followed by follow-up questions. These questions are answered by the minister on the floor. Such questions are important as these place the government in an uncomfortable position if the minister is unable to answer or to provide a logical explanation.

It can be easily figured that the pandemic is being used as an excuse as lockdown has been lifted in almost the entire country. Students have been forced to sit for JEE and NEET exams providing the argument that- ‘life must go on’. This should apply to the working of the parliament as well.

Besides, the pandemic is all the more reason to have a question hour as the government needs to be held accountable and asked questions about the mismanagement regarding growing cases of coronavirus, the economic slump and its plans to revive the economy. With the GDP data for the first quarter released, the government needs to answer what are the steps it is going to take to prevent the economy from entering into a recessionary phase. The recent allegations which have surfaced after reports of BJP-Facebook nexus in international publications, the government needs to be called out and asked relevant questions for that as well. Most importantly, with the Chinese aggression on the border, the government needs to answer what will be the next step to protect the territorial integrity of the country.

There has been just one instance when the Question hour was cancelled. Parliamentary records show that during the Chinese aggression in 1962, the Winter Session was advanced. The question hour was suspended, in that case, after an agreement between the ruling and the opposition parties. In the present case, a similar all party meet was not consulted before taking the decision.

Opposition ministers like Shashi Tharoor, Derek O’Brien, Mahua Moitra, and Asaduddin Owaisi among others have expressed their outrage over the suspension of question hour. Owaisi has pointed out that not having a question hour goes against theory of separation of power and Moitra in her tweet said, “Asking questions in Court is Contempt, asking questions outside parliament is sedition, and now asking questions inside Parliament is forbidden.”

The recent India-China standoff in Ladakh, the destruction of the informal sector, the bad state of the economy, and the job loss are worrisome issues which can only be resolved by a collaborative approach which includes actions by the government and critical feedback by the opposition. The system of question hour in parliamentary democracy ensures this by having a question answer round. Suspending this is a sign that the government is unprepared to take these questions and is trying to stifle the voice of the opposition by delegitimizing their role in the parliament. This move which is a means of crushing dissent should receive criticism as this harms the democratic values that are integral to the constitution and is pushing the country towards a monarchical state.

bottom of page