On Wednesday, the secretariats of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha notified that there will be no question time during the monsoon session of parliament, which was cut short from September 14 to October 1 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and this zero hour will be limited in both rooms.
- Opposition MPs criticized the move, saying they would lose the right to question the government. An overview of what is happening in both houses during Question Time and Zero Hour:
What is Question Time and what does it mean?
Question Time is Parliament’s busiest hour. It is at this time that members pose questions to ministers and hold them accountable for the operation of their departments. The questions asked by parliamentarians are aimed at obtaining information and triggering appropriate action on the part of the ministries.
For the past 70 years, parliamentarians have successfully used this parliamentary apparatus to shed light on how government works. Their questions exposed financial irregularities and made public data and information on government operations. With the spread of Question Time since 1991, Question Time has become one of the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.
Asking government questions has a long history in our legislative bodies. Before independence, the first question posed to the government dates back to 1893. It was the responsibility of the town merchants, who had to supply the traveling officials.
What is Zero Hour?
- While question time is strictly regulated, zero hour is an Indian parliamentary innovation. The expression is not mentioned in the regulations.
- The concept of zero hour began organically in the first decade of the Indian parliament, when MPs felt the need to raise important national and electoral issues.
- During the early days, Parliament used to take a lunch break at 1 p.m. Therefore, the possibility for MPs to raise national issues without prior notice was offered at noon and could last for an hour until the House adjourns for lunch.
- This led to the hour being popularly known as Zero Hour and issues that arose during this time as Zero Hour presentations. Over the years, the presidents of both houses have given instructions to streamline the operation of Hora Cero to make it even more efficient.
- Its importance can be measured by the support it receives from citizens, the media, parliamentarians and presidents, although it is not part of the agreement.
How is the question time regulated?
Parliament has detailed rules to deal with all aspects of Question Time. And the presidents of the two houses are the final authority in conducting Question Time. For example, Question Time is usually the first hour of a parliamentary session. In 2014, Rajya Sabha President Hamid Ansari changed House Question Time from 11 a.m. At noon. The measure was to avoid the interruption of question time.
What kinds of questions are being asked?
Parliamentary rules provide guidelines on the types of questions that parliamentarians can ask. Questions should be limited to 150 words. They should be specific and not too general. The issue should also be related to an area of responsibility of the Government of India. Questions should not seek information about secret or pending matters in court. It is the presidents of the two houses who finally decide whether a question asked by a deputy will be admitted to receive a response from the government.
How often does Question Time happen?
The process of asking and answering questions begins with identifying the days on which Question Time will take place. When Parliament began in 1952, the Lok Sabha Rules of Procedure provided for Question Time to be held every day. Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, had scheduled Question Time two days a week. A few months later, this was changed to four days a week. Then, starting in 1964, Question Time was held at Rajya Sabha every day of the session.
As of now, Question Time in both Chambers takes place every day of the session. But there are two days when an exception is made. There is no question time on the day the President addresses the members of both Houses in the Central Hall. The president’s speech takes place at the beginning of a new Lok S
How does Parliament manage to get answers to so many questions?
- To simplify the response to questions posed by members, the departments are divided into five groups. Each group answers the questions on the day they have been assigned. For example, in the last session on Thursday, the ministries of civil aviation, labor, housing, youth and sports answered questions posed by the Lok Sabha MPs.
- This grouping of ministries is different for the two houses, so that ministers can be present in one house to answer questions. Thus, the Civil Aviation Minister responded to questions to Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, during the budget session.
- Parliamentarians can specify whether they want an oral or written answer to their questions. They can put an asterisk next to their question, indicating that they want the minister to answer that question on the floor. These are called asterisk questions.
- After the Minister’s response, the Member who asked the question and the other Members can also ask a supplementary question. This is the visible part of Question Time, where MPs are seen trying to corner ministers about the functioning of their departments on live television. Experienced MPs choose to ask an oral question when the answer to the question puts the government in an uncomfortable position.
How do ministers prepare their responses?
- The departments receive questions 15 days in advance so they can prepare their ministers for Question Time. They should also be prepared for specific follow-up questions that can wait in the Chamber. Government officials are available in a gallery so they can pass relevant notes or documents to help the minister answer a question.
- When parliamentarians try to collect data and information on how the government works, they prefer the answers to these questions in writing. These questions are called unanswered questions. The answers to these questions are placed on the Parliament table.
Are the questions reserved for ministers?
- Members often ask questions to hold ministers accountable. But the rules also provide you with a mechanism to ask your colleagues a question. Such a question should be limited to the role of a deputy in relation to a bill or resolution that he himself has put to the test or any other matter related to the functioning of the Chamber for which he is responsible. If allowed by the president, members can also ask a minister a question less than 15 days in advance.
Is there a limit to the number of questions that can be asked?
- The rules for how many questions can be asked in a day have changed over the years.
- In Lok Sabha, until the late 1960s, there was no limit to the number of no-follow-up questions that could be asked in one day. Now, Parliament’s rules limit the number of tracked and untracked questions a member can ask per day.
- The total number of questions asked by the deputies in the categories followed and not followed is put to a random vote. From the ballot in Lok Sabha, 20 questions marked with a star are selected to answer during Question Time and 230 are selected for written responses.
- Last year, a record was set when in a single day, after a gap of 47 years, all 20 questions marked with stars were answered in Lok Sabha.