As the Monsoon Session of Parliament draws near, there has been some real criticism of the government over concerns that it is trying to stifle the voice of democracy by disallowing Question Hour and Zero Hour, a regular feature of every parliament session when each day an hour is spent both on Question Hour and Zero Hour mentions.
Top sources in the government confirmed to CNN News18 that there will be no Question Hour. However, there will be a half-an-hour slot for for Zero Hour which may be stretched up to an hour or so depending on the Chair.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi told CNN News18, "When has the government said no for Zero Hour. It is a call which has to be finally taken by both Lok Sabha speaker and Rajya Sabha chairman. Given the seriousness of COVID-19, it is going to be a session with minimum presence. Thus, we are not in a position to allow ministers and officers to come in and go out for the Question Hour. This has been explained to all the leaders that we have spoken to."
It may be noted the government has reached out to all political parties for the smooth functioning of the session. Deputy Leader of the Lok Sabha Rajnath Singh has made calls to several top notch leaders of political parties with the likes of Ghulam Nabi Azad, Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary, Farooq Abdullah Sharad Pawar and Derek O'Brien.
Parliamentary Affairs Ministers Prahlad Joshi, Arjun Meghwal and V Muraleedharan have also called several party leaders. Joshi has spoken to National Conference MP Abdullah, TMC’s Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Vijay Sai Reddy of the YSRCP, Tiruchi Siva and TR Baalu of the DMK, and Pinaki Misra of the BJD among others.
Some parties have expressed reservation about not having Question Hour, while others have agreed that these are indeed difficult circumstances unlike normal times.
Among those raising objections is TMC’s O'Brien, who spoke to Rajnath Singh about his reservation. However, his party’s parliamentary leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay is said to have accepted where the government is coming from. NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar has also acknowledged the reason government has decided to scrap Question Hour.
While Tiruchi Siva from the DMK has asked for the need to have Question Hour and Zero Hour, his party leader from Lok Sabha TR Baalu has appreciated the government’s effort to keep everyone safe.
Congress Lok Sabha floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury recently wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla demanding Zero and Question Hour. However, he agreed with the government when Rajnath Singh called him a few days ago.
Prahlad Joshi told CNN News18, "Our Deputy Leader Rajnath Singh spoke to Chowdhury and he agreed that it was indeed difficult to have Question and Zero Hour, but soon after he wrote a letter to the Speaker. It seems the party forced him into that afterthought."
Many political parties had also asked for short-term discussions or debates on vital issues. Top sources in the government said it is likely to allow one such discussion per week, but the final call will be taken by the custodians of both houses.
The government has also agreed on discussions on very crucial issues that have been brought to the notice through the course of their discussion with political parties, including the India-China issue, GDP, economy, COVID-19 crisis, migrant crisis and so on.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal told CNN News18, "We have never run away from any issue and that is the reason we have allowed discussion on multiple issues. However, we have crucial bills to pass and we hope that the Opposition will not hold the House to ransom."
The Monsoon Session of Parliament will begin from September 14 and will go on till October 1 with about 18 sittings, including weekends with each house in seating for a duration of four hours. The session will be conducted following strict COVID-19 protocol.