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Parliament special session: Very few instances of Question Hour being scrapped

Next week, Parliament will hold a five-day special session, from September 18 to 22, amid widespread speculation over the agenda of the session. The Opposition has questioned the fact that the government has said there will be no Question Hour or Zero Hour during this session, nor would any private member Bills be allowed.

The Constitution does not contain any mention of special sessions, how they can be called (except in the case of an emergency if regular sessions haven’t been held), and how they are conducted. As such, the procedures for them are unclear.

Question Hour is an essential part of Parliament’s proceedings. In an earlier article in The Indian Express, Chakshu Roy, head of legislative and civic engagement at PRS Legislative Research, wrote: “Question Hour is the liveliest hour in Parliament. It is during this one hour that Members of Parliament ask questions of 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… MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning. Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain. With the broadcasting of Question Hour since 1991, Question Hour has become one the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.”

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The decision regarding holding Question Hour is entirely up to the discretion of the presiding officers of either House – the Speaker in the Lok Sabha and the Vice President in the Rajya Sabha.

The last time Question Hour was scrapped was during the pandemic-hit Monsoon Session in 2020. This was the second instance of Question Hour being dropped under the BJP-led Narendra Modi government – before this, the 2017 midnight session to announce the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax did not feature a Question Hour, or any other usual legislative business, and was largely ceremonial.

Prior to 2017, Question Hour was done away with on only a handful of occasions on record. Among the earliest instances was in 1961, when a special session of Parliament was called to discuss the budget of Odisha, which had been under President’s Rule. The budget was passed without a Question Hour.

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In 1962, during the India-China war, the Winter Session of Parliament was advanced and Question Hour was suspended after an agreement between the ruling and Opposition parties.

During the Emergency era, at least two sessions of Parliament did not have a Question Hour – in 1975, Parliament convened to approve the proclamation of Emergency, and in 1976, when the controversial 42nd Amendment to the Constitution, known as the ‘mini Constitution’ for its length and the extent of proposed changes, was passed. The amendment gave the Centre the power to further amend the Constitution without judicial review, placed limits on the judiciary, transferred several subjects from the state list to the Union list, and added the words “socialist” and “secular” to the Preamble. After Indira Gandhi and the Congress lost the 1977 elections, Morarji Desai’s Janata Party government introduced two further amendments to partially restore the Constitution to its pre-1976 state.

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In 1977, when Parliament convened to extend President’s Rule in Nagaland and Tamil Nadu, a five-day special session was held without a Question Hour.

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