At a time when the Question Hour (QH), often marred by unruly scenes and frequent adjournments of Parliament, is being debated, a new book gives interesting insight into its evolution and argues for retaining the “accountability tool”, but with certain changes.
“Parliamentary Questions — Glorious Beginning to an Uncertain Future” states that the first question was raised on February 16, 1893, in the Legislative Council, which gave way to bicameral legislative system post Independence.
The Maharaja of Bhinga drew the government's attention to the hardships caused to cultivators and village shopkeepers by touring officers who had to be supplied with logistical support. In reply, government member Sir Philip Hutchins said it would not be repeated again.
A question is usually raised in both Houses for seeking information on a matter of public importance. But of late, members have certain foreknowledge and the real objective behind seeking information is to pinpoint or highlight delay, inefficiency, waste and malpractices of the government. The first hour of every sitting of Parliament is known as QH, and a member can ask five questions a day — one “starred” and four “unstarred”.
BJP veteran M M Joshi, also chairman of the Estimates Committee of the Lok Sabha, in his foreword to the book authored by Additional Secretary Devender Singh, argued for “an imperative need to suspend the clamour and clash, at least during the Question Hour”, since this powerful tool of “accountability and oversight is available to all in equal measure”.
The QH, writes author Singh, is supposed to be the “grand inquest of the nation”, which the British were reluctant to concede to members that empowered them to publicly question regime.
To maintain the QH's topicality and spontaneity, the procedure calls for drastic changes so live and not stale issues are raised, creating greater interest and stake in uninterrupted proceedings.
The notice period, which is 15 days, needs to be reduced further so issues of policy are raised through starred questions and matters of details left for written answers, suggests the book.
Electronic tabling of notices of questions should be made permissible, says the author, for reducing time and making proceedings paperless. Data compiled of the notices of questions tabled and admitted from the first to the 15th Lok Sabha gives a glimpse on the steep rise in parliamentary queries.
From 43,411 questions accepted out of 92,134 filed in the first Lok Sabha, it rose to 79,638 admitted out of 4,43,534 received till May 2009, the 15th. While the number of questions received rose 481 per cent, the figure for questions admitted rose only 183 per cent, which means rejection of queries was much higher.