Importance Of Question Hour In A Parliamentary Democracy

Rishabh Singh

10 Sep 2020 3:02 PM GMT

  • Importance Of Question Hour In A Parliamentary Democracy

    The Hon'ble Supreme Court in the Keshavanada Bharti[1] case established that Parliamentary democracy is an integral part Basic Structure of our Constitution. The basic concept of the parliamentary governance is that it owes a collective responsibility towards the parliament and it holds the government accountable. Essentially, in a Parliamentary Democracy, the executive is made answerable...

    The Hon'ble Supreme Court in the Keshavanada Bharti[1] case established that Parliamentary democracy is an integral part Basic Structure of our Constitution. The basic concept of the parliamentary governance is that it owes a collective responsibility towards the parliament and it holds the government accountable. Essentially, in a Parliamentary Democracy, the executive is made answerable to the parliament. The Indian democracy is completely based on the principles of debates and discussion, the role of opposition is very important in law making and obliges the government to be responsible and accountable.

    The President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind in exercise of his powers conferred under Article 85[2] of the Constitution of India, on 31st August, 2020 summoned the fourth session of the 17th Parliament from 14th September to 1st October, 2020. The order was considered controversial as the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats were notified that there will be no Question Hour during the Monsoon Series of Parliament in the view of the current pandemic prevalent in the country.[3] The government further clarified that the opposition was consulted before such decision was notified. Thereby, having the consensus of the opposition as well.

    Both Houses of the Parliament follow their own set of rules which are formulated to govern themselves. In the similar manner the parliament has categorized questions asked in the parliament in different types[4] and they are:-

    1. Starred Questions: The answers to these questions are desired to be given orally on the floor of the House during the Question Hour.
    2. Unstarred Questions: The answers to these questions which are deemed to have been laid on the Table of the House are given by Ministers at the end of the Question Hour in a written form.
    3. Short Notice Questions: These questions are asked orally in the House after the Question Hour or as the first item in the agenda where there is no Question Hour at a notice shorter than that prescribed for Starred and Unstarred Questions. These must are generally of public importance to a subject-matter considered by the Speaker/Chairman on an urgent basis.
    4. Questions to Private Members- This Question is addressed to a Private Member (As per Rule 40 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha), provided that the subject matter of the question relates to some Bill, Resolution or other matter connected with the business of the House for which that Member is responsible.

    Before asking a question in the parliament, the member has to give a 15 day notice to the Chairman/Speaker in a prescribed manner. Such a period can be reduced at the discretion of the Chairman/Speaker. A notice shall include the name of such Minister to who the question will be addressed to, the day which he wants to ask, and lastly, the questions[5]. The permissible limit with respect to the question are only five a day per member in Lok Sabha[6] and seven per day in Rajya Sabha[7].

    As the Question hour is suspended for the monsoon session, the Starred questions including the Supplementary questions which elucidate the same fact cannot be asked. Subsequently, the Unstarred questions are permitted with certain limitations wherein only certain questions can be asked in a day by a member. The questions to private members and private member bill shall also be suspended for this session, which is against the democratic rights of a legislator. However, the short notice questions will be allowed with oral answers in case of urgency upon the discretion of the Speaker/Chair.

    Highlighting the title of this article, it is important to analyse the importance of the Question Hour in the parliament. The Rajya Sabha terms question hour as 'one of the parliamentary device, in fact, is primarily meant for exercising a kind of legislative control over executive actions. Besides, the Members also find an opportunity through this device to criticise Government's policies and programmes; ventilate public grievances; expose Government's lapses; and extract promises from Ministers. Members also get opportunity to give vent to their feelings when they are not satisfied with the answers by putting supplementaries.'[8]

    The Question hour being an integral part of the parliament proceedings in a parliamentary democracy due to the accountability of the government. It is considered significant part of the parliamentary proceedings because sometimes it leads to any parliamentary enquiry, court enquiry, formation of commission or even formation of new legislation. The debates and discussion let it the mood of the nation which helps the government in understanding the political acceptance of such moves and also brings out the shortcomings in the law or policies of the government and sometimes points raised grave enough to agitate the public mind and are of public importance.

    The questions to the government fulfill the objectives of the parliamentary democracy, wherein when a posing of a question and discussion of the same leads to greater public notice as the information reaches to the far ends of the nation. Secondly, the government gets to know the short comings and flaws in the policy and also certain clarifications are also done and the reasoning and aim behind the policy or law is clarified by the government.

    In the current situation when India is having highest one day Covid-19 cases and second most cases in the world[9], when we are on the verge of two front war, one of the worst economy contraction by around 23% and unpleasing report of FY2019-20 by the RBI[10], the Central government as well as many other state assemblies have opted for suspension of question hour and cutting short of the zero hour during the parliamentary proceedings, the decision is totally unscientific as well as unconstitutional. The decision to suspend the question hour in the name of pandemic has no rationale reasoning to justify it whatsoever. Whereas, the removal of question hour will cause more damage to the constitutional and democratic principle, as it will lack government accountability. In these circumstance where we are having issues in every sector of the economy, the involvement of opposition and check on the government will ensure better implementation of policies. When a situation like these arise the government is needed to call for better parliamentary discussion and debates which will ensure get us over come out shortcomings and ensure a collective responsibility towards their duties for the nation.

    Views are personal only.
    (Author is a 5th Year BALLB student of Christ Deemed to be university, Bengaluru)

    [1] AIR 1973 SC 1461

    [2] India Const. art. 85

    [3] Express Web Desk, Parliament Session: Oppn raises suspension of Question Hour issue, govt says not running away from debate, Indian Express (Sept. 08, 2020, 11:05 AM)

    [4] NIC, Type of Questions, Lok Sabha (Sept. 08, 2020, 11: 15 AM)

    [5]NIC, Procedure relating to Questions, Lok Sabha (Sept. 08, 2020, 11: 20 AM)

    [6]NIC, Starred and Unstarred Questions, Lok Sabha (Sept. 08, 2020, 11: 24 AM)

    [7] Dr. Yogendranarain, Questions and half-an- hour discussion, Rajya Sabha ((Sept. 08, 2020, 11: 30 AM)

    [8] Id.

    [9]Agency, WHO Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) Dashboard, World Health Organisation (Sept. 08, 2020, 11: 35 AM)

    [10]The Annual Report of the Working of The Reserve Bank of India (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020) (Sept. 08, 2020, 11: 45 AM)

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