Opposition leaders, including Derek O'Brien and Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday, criticised the decision to cancel the Question Hour in the monsoon session of Parliament and said the pandemic was being used as an excuse to stifle dissent. O'Brien, the TMC leader of Rajya Sabha, added that this was happening for the first time since 1950.
"MPs required to submit questions for Question Hour in Parliament 15 days in advance. Session starts 14 September. So Question Hour cancelled? Opposition MPs lose right to question govt. A first since 1950? Parliament overall working hours remain same so why cancel Question Hour? Pandemic excuse to murder democracy," O'Brien wrote on Twitter.
MPs required to submit Qs for Question Hour in #Parliament 15 days in advance. Session starts 14 Sept. So Q Hour cancelled ? Oppn MPs lose right to Q govt. A first since 1950 ? Parliament overall working hours remain same so why cancel Q Hour?Pandemic excuse to murder democracy— Derek O'Brien | ডেরেক ও'ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) September 2, 2020
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, in a series of tweets, also slammed the Centre over its decision to not allow Question Hour and Zero Hour and said that the government was seeking to use its "crushing majority as a rubber-stamp for whatever it wants to pass."
"I said four months ago that strongmen leaders would use the excuse of the pandemic to stifle democracy&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?," Tharoor tweeted. Tharoor added that questioning the government is the oxygen of parliamentary democracy.
"This Govt seeks to reduce Parliament to a notice-board & uses its crushing majority as a rubber-stamp for whatever it wants to pass. The one mechanism to promote accountability has now been done away with," his tweet read.
2/2 Questioning the government is the oxygen of parliamentary democracy. This Govt seeks to reduce Parliament to a notice-board & uses its crushing majority as a rubber-stamp for whatever it wants to pass. The one mechanism to promote accountability has now been done away with.— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) September 2, 2020
The Monsoon Session of the Parliament amid the Covid-19 pandemic will begin on September 14. Opposition parties have expressed concerns over the decision to disallow Question Hour and Zero Hour, which is a regular feature of every parliament session when each day an hour is spent both on Question Hour and Zero Hour mentions. A few parties have conveyed their reservation about not having Question Hour, while others have agreed given the challenging circumstances.
O'Brien, had also spoken to Rajnath Singh about his reservation earlier, but his party’s parliamentary leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay is believed to have accepted where the government's position. Meanwhile, 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.
In the letter to the speaker, Chowdhury said curtailing the Question Hour and the Zero Hour would not be in the interest of elected representatives, especially in the current times of COVID-19. "There appears to be a proposal for curtailing the Question Hour as well as the Zero Hour during the Session by way of restricting the allocation of time as well as the number of notices that could be filed by the members," he had said.
NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar has also accepted the reason for which the government has decided to scrap Question Hour. While DMK's Tiruchi Siva demanded that the Question Hour and Zero Hour be held, his party leader from Lok Sabha TR Baalu has acknowledged the government’s efforts to keep everyone safe.
Several political parties had also asked for short-term discussions on key 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, the migrant crisis and so on.
The Monsoon Session of Parliament will commence from September 14 and will continue till October 1 with about 18 sittings, including weekends with each house in seating for a duration of four hours.