From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Question hour, Zero Hour
Mains level : Not Much
The Lok Sabha Secretariat officially released the schedule for the monsoon Parliament session with Question Hour being dropped. Zero Hour will also be restricted in both Houses.
This newscard is very narrative in its form and scope.
Q.Discuss the various instruments of Parliamentary Control in India.
What is Question Hour, and what is its significance?
- Question Hour is the liveliest hour in Parliament. It is during this one hour that MPs ask questions of ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries.
- Prior to Independence, the first question asked of government was in 1893. It was on the burden cast on village shopkeepers who had to provide supplies to touring government officers.
- The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.
- Over the last 70 years, MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning.
- Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain.
- With the broadcasting since 1991, Question Hour has become one of the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.
And what is Zero Hour?
- While Question Hour is strictly regulated, Zero Hour is an Indian innovation. The phrase does not find mention in the 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.
- During the initial days, Parliament used to break for lunch at 1 pm.
- Therefore, the opportunity for MPs to raise national issues without an advance notice became available at 12 pm and could last for an hour until the House adjourned for lunch.
- This led to the hour being popularly referred to as Zero Hour and the issues being raised during this time as Zero Hour submissions.
- Its importance can be gauged from the support it receives from citizens, media, MPs and presiding officers despite not being part of the rulebook.
How is Question Hour regulated?
- Parliament has comprehensive rules for dealing with every aspect of Question Hour.
- And the presiding officers of the two houses are the final authority with respect to the conduct of Question Hour.
- For example, usually, Question Hour is the first hour of a parliamentary sitting.
What kinds of questions are asked?
- Parliamentary rules provide guidelines on the kind of questions that can be asked by MPs.
- Questions have to be limited to 150 words. They have to be precise and not too general.
- The question should also be related to an area of responsibility of the GoI.
- Questions should not seek information about matters that are secret or are under adjudication before courts.
- It is the presiding officers of the two Houses who finally decide whether a question raised by an MP will be admitted for answering by the government.
How frequently is Question Hour held?
- The process of asking and answering questions starts with identifying the days on which Question Hour will be held.
- At the beginning of Parliament in 1952, Lok Sabha rules provided for Question Hour to be held every day. Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, had a provision for Question Hour for two days a week.
- A few months later, this was changed to four days a week. Then from 1964, Question Hour was taking place in Rajya Sabha on every day of the session.
- Now, Question Hour in both Houses is held on all days of the session.
- But there are two days when an exception is made. There is no Question Hour on the day the President addresses MPs from both Houses in the Central Hall.
- Question Hour is not scheduled either on the day the Finance Minister presents the Budget.
How does Parliament manage to get so many questions answered?
- To streamline the answering of questions raised by MPs, the ministries are put into five groups. Each group answers questions on the day allocated to it.
- For example, in the last session, on Thursday the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Labour, Housing, and Youth Affairs and Sports were answering questions posed by Lok Sabha MPs.
- MPs can specify whether they want an oral or written response to their questions.
- They can put an asterisk against their question signifying that they want the minister to answer that question on the floor. These are referred to as starred questions.
- After the minister’s response, the MP who asked the question and other MPs can also ask a follow-up question.
- This is the visible part of Question Hour, where you see MPs trying to corner ministers on the functioning of their ministries on live television.
How do ministers prepare their answers?
- Ministries receive the questions 15 days in advance so that they can prepare their ministers for Question Hour.
- They also have to prepare for sharp follow-up questions they can expect to be asked in the House.
- Governments’ officers are close at hand in a gallery so that they can pass notes or relevant documents to support the minister in answering a question.
- When MPs are trying to gather data and information about government functioning, they prefer the responses to such queries in writing.
- These questions are referred to as unstarred questions. The responses to these questions are placed on the table of Parliament.
Are the questions only for ministers?
- MPs usually ask questions to hold ministers accountable. But the rules also provide them with a mechanism for asking their colleagues a question.
- Such a question should be limited to the role of an MP relating to a Bill or a resolution being piloted by them or any other matter connected with the functioning of the House for which they are responsible.
- Should the presiding officer so allow, MPs can also ask a question to a minister at a notice period shorter than 15 days.
Is there a limit to the number of questions that can be asked?
- Rules on the number of questions that can be asked in a day have changed over the years.
- In Lok Sabha, until the late 1960s, there was no limit on the number of unstarred questions that could be asked in a day.
- Now, Parliament rules limit the number of starred and unstarred questions an MP can ask in a day.
- The total numbers of questions asked by MPs in the starred and unstarred categories are then put in a random ballot.
- From the ballot in Lok Sabha, 20 starred questions are picked for answering during Question Hour and 230 are picked for written answers.
- Last year, a record was set when on a single day, after a gap of 47 years, all 20 starred questions were answered in Lok Sabha.
Have there been previous sessions without Question Hour?
- Parliamentary records show that during the Chinese aggression in 1962, the Winter Session was advanced.
- The sitting of the House started at 12 pm and there was no Question Hour held. Before the session, changes were made limiting the number of questions.
- Thereafter, following an agreement between the ruling and the Opposition parties, it was decided to suspend Question Hour.