Question Hour And Zero Hour


  • Recently, in view of ongoing pandemic and a truncated Monsoon Session, Parliament has notified that there will be no Question Hour during the Monsoon Session of Parliament and that Zero Hour will be restricted in both Houses.
  • Opposition MPs have criticised the move, saying they will lose the right to question the government.

Question Hour

  • During this hour Members of Parliament (MP) ask questions to ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries.
  • The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.
  • However, questions can also be asked to the private members (MPs who are not ministers).
  • Usually Question Hour is the first hour of a parliamentary sitting.

Regulation

  • Parliament has comprehensive rules for dealing with every aspect of Question Hour.
  • The presiding officers of the two houses are the final authority with respect to the conduct of Question Hour.

Types of Questions Asked

Starred Questions

  • These are Questions to which answers are desired to be given orally on the floor of the House during the Question Hour.
  • These are distinguished in the printed lists by asterisks.
  • The list of these questions is printed in green colour.

Unstarred Questions

  • These are Questions to which written answers are given by Ministers which are deemed to have been laid on the Table of the House at the end of the Question Hour.
  • The list of these questions is printed in white colour.

Short Notice Questions

  • Such questions can be asked orally in the House after the Question Hour or as the first item in the agenda where there is no Question Hour at a notice shorter than that prescribed for Starred and Unstarred Questions.
  • These must relate to a subject-matter considered by the Chairman to be of urgent public importance.
  • The list of these questions is printed in light pink colour.

Questions to Private Members

  • These questions are mentioned under Rule 40 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha.
  • A question may be addressed to a private member if the subject matter of the question relates to some bill, resolution for which that member is responsible.
  • The list of these questions is printed in yellow colour.

Frequency

  • 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.

Zero Hour

  • Zero Hour is an Indian parliamentary innovation. It does not find mention in the rules of procedure.
  • It is an informal tool available to the members to raise the matters without any prior notice.
  • It starts after Question Hour and lasts until the regular business is taken up. Thus, the time gap between the end of zero hour and beginning of regular business (agenda) of the house is called Zero hour.

Half an hour Discussion

  • Members have a right to get information from the Government on any matter of public concern by means of questions to Ministers.
  • When a member feels that the answer given to a question, Starred or Unstarred or Short Notice, is not complete or does not give the desired information or needs elucidation on a matter of fact, he may be allowed by the Speaker to raise a discussion in the House for half an hour.
  • The procedure is, therefore, termed as ‘Half-an-Hour Discussion’.

Nature of Questions Asked

  • Parliamentary rules provide guidelines on the kind of questions that can be asked by MPs.
  • The question should also be related to an area of responsibility of the Government of India.
  • 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.

Answering Procedure

  • 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.
  • This grouping of ministries is different for the two Houses so that ministers can be present in one house to answer questions.

Limitation to Number of Questions Asked

  • 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 number 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.

Significance

  • It is during the Question Hour that Members can ask questions on every aspect of administration and governmental activity.
  • Government policies in the national as well as international spheres come into sharp focus as the Members try to elicit pertinent information during the Question Hour.
  • It has helped to expose financial irregularities and brought data and information.

Recent  Procedural Changes

  • The following procedural changes have been in force since the 5th session of the 15th Lok Sabha-
  • A 15-day notice period is now to be given to the minister to respond to a question in Parliament (concept of minimum and maximum notice duration has been removed). The notice duration used to be a minimum of 10 days or maximum of 21 days.
  • The Speaker now has the authority to direct answers to a starred question asked by a member in case of his or her absence on the day their name was called.
  • A member is now required to make a statement in the House correcting the reply given by him or her earlier, irrespective of whether the reply given pertained to a starred or unstarred or a short notice question.
  • The maximum questions, starred or unstarred, a member is now entitled to give is 10 per day.

Source : Civil Services Chronicle Online, September, 2020