Grappling with the challenge of frequent disruptions in question hour, presiding officers of State legislatures here on Sunday discussed ways and means of discouraging the trend with Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar saying it was a severe blow to the principle of accountability. She said some key decisions would help regulate the question hour.
Inaugurating the 75th All-India Presiding Officers' Conference here, she said “question hour being the very first hour sets the mood of the House for the day. Its disruption adversely affects the proceedings of the entire day. In addition, whenever, the question hour is disrupted, people are deprived of a great deal of information on various aspects of the functioning of the government. It blocks the flow of information from Executive to Legislature and from Legislature to the people, causing a serious blow to the principle of accountability,” she said.
Ms. Kumar said the question hour had a special significance in the proceedings of the House, particularly in ventilating the grievances of the public in matters concerning the administration and working matters, concerning the administration and working of the Ministers and their allied departments and organisations. “Some key decisions have been taken to increase the efficacy of the question hour which will be operative from the fifth session of the 15th Lok Sabha. These procedural changes will meet the long-felt need to regulate the question hour in the Lok Sabha more effectively.”
Ms. Kumar said the minimum and maximum period of 10 and 21 days respectively for giving notices by the members for Questions had been done away with and a uniform period of 15 days had been prescribed for giving such notices.
Secondly, the Speaker had now been vested with powers to direct answer to a starred question of a member who was absent in the House when his or her name was called.
Thirdly, a member was 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.
Fourth, the number of notices of questions which a member was entitled to give, both for oral and written answers in a day, had been limited to 10.
She said asking questions was an inherent right of members in our parliamentary democracy and emphasised “that the interest of the people can be better served by ensuring that the House runs in order.”
The Speaker said the question hour had sanctity of its own as the primary device available to members to demand the government to explain its acts of omission and commission and also its stand on a variety of subjects of public importance. It was, therefore, the duty of every Presiding officer to maintain the inviolability of the question hour. She expressed the hope that this conference would discuss the relevant issues in their proper perspectives for evolving an effective solution to the problem.
Ms. Kumar said: “We will be discussing two subjects of enormous parliamentary importance, namely, growing tendency to disrupt the question hour and the need to check it, and the significance of the committee system in Parliament and the need to strengthen it.”
With the increasing business and expanding functions of modern Legislatures, there had been a corresponding increase in the use of committees in almost all our legislative bodies. In fact, the committee system had been widely acclaimed as the best suited device for detailed scrutiny of the administrative actions for enforcing executive accountability to the Legislature and, through it, to the people at large.
Ms. Kumar said the conference “is a platform where we could learn from one another's experience in managing the affairs of our Houses more professionally. I earnestly hope that this Conference will go a long way in further streamlining the working of our parliamentary institutions.”