A decision to cancel Question Hour in the monsoon session of parliament beginning September 14 in the shadow of the coronavirus crisis has generated growing resentment among opposition MPs.
The session will have Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha working in separate shifts and there will be special seating for MPs to ensure distancing. Lok Sabha will sit from 9 am to 1 pm on the first day and from 3 pm to 7 pm till October 1. Rajya Sabha will sit from 3 pm to 7 pm the first day and 9 am to 1 pm the rest of the days. Weekends will be working days.
There will be no Private Members' business, the hour set aside for bills put up by MPs. There will be a zero hour, slotted for members to raise matters of public importance, but that has been cut short to 30 minutes.
The Question Hour, the first hour in the House, allows members to ask the government questions.
Rajya Sabha member Derek O'Brien of Trinamool Congress said the pandemic was being used as an excuse to "murder democracy" in a tweet this morning.
"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," Mr O'Brien posted.
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
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said questioning the government is the oxygen of parliamentary democracy. "I said four months ago that strongmen leaders would use the excuse of the pandemic to stifle democracy and 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," Mr Tharoor said.
"Questioning the government is the oxygen of parliamentary democracy. This government seeks to reduce parliament to a notice-board and 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," added the Congress MP from Kerala.
Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, reacting to the uproar, said: ""Parliament is being held under special circumstances. The parliamentary affairs minister is in touch with all parties."
Opposition leaders say they were told by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh that if there was a Question Hour, ministers would need to be briefed by officials of their ministries and this would raise the number of visitors to parliament in Covid times.
Senior Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on Friday to mark his protest.
In a column for NDTV.com, Mr O'Brien wrote that about 50 per cent of parliament's time is reserved for the government and the other 50 per cent for the opposition. "The BJP wants to turn the parliament of the people into M&S Private Limited (figure out the abbreviation!). Under the best traditions of the Westminster Model, 'the Parliament belongs to Opposition'," he wrote.
DMK leader Kanimozhi tweeted, "The BJP government's decision to suspend the Question Hour for an entire session conveys just one message - 'Even elected representatives have no right to question the government'."