A day after several leaders in the Opposition attacked the Centre for scrapping the Question Hour during the upcoming Monsoon Session, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said “unstarred questions” will be allowed, reported PTI. The first hour in the House, called the Question Hour, allows members to address queries to the government.

Replies to unstarred questions are given in writing, while answers to “starred questions” are provided verbally on the floor during the Question Hour.

“We are not running away from any debate and is ready to discuss any issue or topic which will be decided in the Business Advisory Committee,” he said. Joshi added that the administration has requested presiding officers of the two Houses to facilitate the process.

The Union minister said that the monsoon session was being conducted under unprecedented situations amid the pandemic. He added that officials from ministries would have to come to Parliament if the Question Hour was held. This may lead to overcrowding, therefore no Question Hour will be held for the safety of the members, he added.

Joshi claimed that the Centre had sought opinions of all opposition parties before the decision was taken and added that most politicians agreed to it. “We discussed the option to drop the Question Hour and issued notification only after everyone agreed except Derek O’Brien,” the minister said, according to NDTV. “All senior members requested that it should be wound up as early as possible.”

The Union minister said even Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandhopadhyay agreed to the decision along with senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Janata Dal (Secular) President HD Deve Gowda. Joshi said that he and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had spoken to the politicians.

On Wednesday, Trinamool Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Derek O’Brien said the pandemic was being used as an excuse to stifle dissent. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said questioning the government was the oxygen of parliamentary democracy.

Communist Party of India MP Binoy Viswam said the suspension raised “serious questions” on the government’s intent when important developments were taking place across the country. He also wrote to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu.

Last week, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had written to Speaker Om Birla and said that cancelling Question Hour would prevent legislators from raising matters of national importance.

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‘Pandemic an excuse to murder democracy’: Opposition leaders criticise move to scrap Question Hour