Question Hour and Zero Hour

Recently, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats notified that there will be no Question Hour during the Monsoon Session of Parliament.

What is Question Hour?

  • 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.
  • Over the last 70 years, 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.
  • Prior to Independence, the first question asked of government was in 1893. It was on the burden cast on village shopkeepers who had to provide supplies to touring government officers.

What is Zero Hour?

  • While Question Hour is strictly regulated, Zero Hour is an Indian parliamentary innovation. The phrase does not find mention in the rules of procedure.
  • The concept of Zero Hour started organically in the first decade of Indian Parliament, when MPs felt the need for raising important constituency and national issues.
  • During the initial days, Parliament used to break for lunch at 1 pm. Therefore, the opportunity for MPs to raise national issues without an advance notice became available at 12 pm and could last for an hour until the House adjourned for lunch. This led to the hour being popularly referred to as Zero Hour and the issues being raised during this time as Zero Hour submissions.

Are the questions only for ministers?

  • MPs usually ask questions to hold ministers accountable. But the rules also provide them with a mechanism for asking their colleagues a question.
  • Such a question should be limited to the role of an MP relating to a Bill or a resolution being piloted by them or any other matter connected with the functioning of the House for which they are responsible.
  • Should the presiding officer so allow, MPs can also ask a question to a minister at a notice period shorter than 15 days.