TMC MP Derek O’Brien said on Wednesday that the Narendra Modi-led central government was using the COVID-19 pandemic to do away with the Question Hour in the upcoming Monsoon Session of the Parliament, which begins on September 14.
The Hindu’s Priscilla Jebaraj tweeted out a notice which showed that during this session of the Parliament, the Lok Sabha would function for four hours from 3pm to 7pm.
There will be no Question Hour and no day has been fixed for Private Member Business.
Several Opposition MPs slammed the move, calling it a violation of their rights. MPs said that the government was using the pandemic as an excuse to avoid scrutiny.
The Hindustan Times reported that defence minister Rajnath Singh had called up opposition leaders, including Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, and O’Brien.
Chowdhury reportedly confirmed that Singh had informed him it would not be possible to schedule the Question Hour because it would require the presence of a large number of officials in Parliament to brief ministers. Singh told Chowdhury that the government would try to accommodate the opposition’s demand for the Zero Hour.
Derek O’Brien had called this a lame excuse in an op-ed written for NDTV on Sunday. “Our simple contention is: why can’t the ministers be briefed virtually?” he asked.
O’Brien said that MPs had received no official bulletins and had to rely on news reports citing government sources on the shortened schedule for the daily sessions of each House.
O’Brien had also said: “Judging by the feelers being sent out by senior ministers, one suspects that the government will use this pandemic to muzzle voices of the opposition in parliament.”
HT reported that Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had written a letter to Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla last week, urging him not to do away with Question Hour and Zero Hour.
“You will kindly appreciate the fact that raising questions in Parliament, and issues of public importance during the Zero Hour are foremost of the procedural methods available to Members to vent issues of national and public interest,” Chowdhury wrote.
“Curtailing the Question Hour and the Zero Hour by way of restricting the number of issues that could be raised and time earmarked would, therefore, not be in the interest of elected representatives,” he said.