Diluting the democratic spirit

Right to question the governments on public issues is integral to the democratic set-up

AuthorPublished: 9th Sep 2020  12:10 amUpdated: 8th Sep 2020  10:24 pm

The suspension of Question Hour in Parliament doesn’t augur well for the health of democracy. The right to question the governments on public issues and hold the executive accountable is integral to the democratic set-up. This accountability lies at the heart of a democratic government and is implemented through procedures put in place by the legislature whose functions include lawmaking, controlling national finances and approving taxation proposals, and having discussions on matters of public interest. Each of these functions is discharged during the periodic sittings of the legislature. The Question Hour is the first hour of business when members of Parliament ask, through a well-established process, questions about the administrative functioning of ministries. And, the supplementary queries often lead to valuable data points, wider probes and assurances on the floor of the House. Invoking the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a ground to cancel the Question Hour is not justified because it is an important provision where a minister is required to give a direct reply to every question posed by the members. The government has defended the move on the ground that it was part of efforts to reduce the number of officials required to be in galleries of the House to maintain social distancing. It is argued that the members would still have the opportunity to raise public issues and seek answers from the government through Zero Hour, debates and short-duration discussions, which are decided through mutual agreement at the meetings of the Business Advisory Committee comprising leaders of treasury and opposition benches.

The daily Question Hour has an unmatched criticality because of its regularity and availability on the basis of equality to every member. It has a special significance in the proceedings of Parliament since it covers every aspect of government activity, domestic and foreign. The information made available through this procedure adds to public information essential for informed debates on important matters. The rest of the business of the bicameral House is tightly controlled and set by the government, leaving only the Question Hour to hold the government accountable. Its suspension is being viewed by the opposition, rightly so, as curtailment of the right to question the government which is a critical component of the Constitution. The Centre may cite past instances in which the Question Hour was suspended, such as when Parliament met during the invasion by Pakistan in 1971. However, this argument fails to take into account the numerous technological advancements made since the early 70s. It is much easier for the government now to collate and transmit information, compared with the state of affairs over five decades ago. The politics of avoidance doesn’t, in anyway, help the democratic process.

 


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