Grave Questions Over Parliamentarians? Queries
The Quint, August 12, 2015
On July 31 AIADMK MP
from Cuddalore A Arunmozhithevan posed an incredible question in
the Lok Sabha. The MP wanted to know the number of people who
suffered from chronic constipation in the country, particularly
in urban areas.
It is possible that
he may have formulated his question after watching ?Piku? which
portrayed Amitabh Bachchan as a cranky septuagenarian suffering
from chronic constipation. Nonetheless, Minister of State for
Health Shripad Yesso Naik answered the question in all
earnestness, saying that no nationwide survey on constipation
was done, but health being a state subject, patients could get
treatment from state-run hospitals.
Over the years, the
quality and standard of questions have fallen sharply. Umpteen
frivolous questions, such as the one on constipation, are asked.
Many times MPs ask questions to expose the government, if he or
she is in the Opposition, some queries are for the benefit of
the people, some are sponsored or ?paid questions? prompted by
Triviality All Over
Even the more
refined MPs ask trivial questions. Last Friday, Shashi Tharoor
asked: ?Whether the government is aware that there has been a
steady decline in the number of tourists visiting the state of
Kerala for ayurvedic treatment during the last three years...?
The junior health minister?s curt reply was: ?Government of
India does not maintain the data of tourists visiting the state
of Kerala for ayurvedic treatment.?
According to Lok
Sabha Secretariat sources, on an average Rs 1 lakh is spent on
culling relevant information, preparing and answering a
particular question. Sometimes information has to be collated
from several departments involving five to six states.
This is not to argue
that Question Hour should be scrapped or done away with.
Question Hour is not only sacrosanct, it has proved to be a
lethal parliamentary weapon in the hands of alert legislators to
fix accountability of the government. The scent of a scam in the
controversial coal block allocation during UPA II was smelt
through a simple question raised by BJP MP Hansraj Ahir, now a
junior minister in the NDA government.
At a time when
cynics question the relevancy of Parliament and Question Hour in
particular, on the premise that RTI has diluted the impact of
questions or diminished MPs? interest in using this tool, old
school parliamentarians such as Murli Manohar Joshi vouch for
the efficacy of ?sacrosanct? Question Hour. Unlike RTI, members
get instant answers in Parliament besides a commitment or an
assurance from the government.
Coaching for MPs
Joshi said MPs
should be coached in the art of formulating strong and relevant
questions to elicit information from the government and expose
Amidst the raging
confrontation between the BJP and the Congress over the Vyapam
scam and Lalitgate, issues which have paralysed Parliament since
July 22, a book on ?Parliamentary Questions ? Glorious Beginning
to an Uncertain Future? authored by Lok Sabha Additional
Secretary Devender Singh was released here on August 10 by
Joshi. He described the book as a work of extensive research and
of great contemporary relevance.
concern over the growing tendency to troop to the well of the
House on the slightest provocation, Joshi observed that the loss
of Question Hour is a colossal waste of time and resources and
highly detrimental to public interest as it blocks the flow of
The former HRD
minister stressed that the device of questions is a powerful
tool of accountability. ?In each question there hangs a
different tale. No other parliamentary device is as versatile
and efficacious in its deployment and reach as a simple,
The book documents
the origin and growth of parliamentary questions from the Raj
era, beginning from the Charter Act of 1853 and the framing of
Rules from the 1st to the 15th Lok Sabha.
Devender Singh said
that ?accountability of the executive to the legislature is the
lynchpin of parliamentary democracy.?
He said the very
first question asked was on February 16, 1893, by the Maharaja
of Bhinga (in the first Legislative Council) and it related to
the hardships caused to cultivators and village shopkeepers by
touring government officers who had to be supplied provisions,
fodder, fuel, etc. per force. The House of People first met on
May 13, 1952, and on May 14, 1954, it was rechristened as Lok
Sabha and the Council of States renamed as Rajya Sabha.
Joshi said that the
idea of asking questions is not purely a Westminster technique
but is rooted in India?s great cultural and hoary learning
Joshi alluded to the
Hymn of Creation in the Rig Veda, which speculates about
creation and the creator and the great argumentative traditions
of questions and answers as evident from the philosophical
exchanges between Yajnavalkya and Gargi, Yaksha-Yudhisthir and
Arjun and Krishna.
It was Joshi?s
opinion that once realisation dawns upon MPs that the device of
question is a powerful accountability and oversight tool which
they must utilise, Question Hour will proceed smoothly.
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