Generally, the first hour of a sitting of Lok Sabha is devoted to Questions and that hour is called the Question Hour. It has a special significance in the proceedings of Parliament.
Asking of questions is an inherent and unfettered parliamentary right of members. It is during the Question Hour that the members can ask questions on every aspect of administration and Governmental activity. Government policies in national as well as international spheres come into sharp focus as the members try to elicit pertinent information during the Question Hour.
The Government is put on its trial during the Question Hour and every Minister whose turn it is to answer questions has to stand up and answer for his or his administration’s acts of omission and commission.
Through the Question Hour the Government is able to quickly feel the pulse of the nation and adapt its policies and actions accordingly. It is through questions in Parliament that the Government remains in touch with the people in as much as members are enabled thereby to ventilate the grievances of the public in matters concerning the administration.
Questions enable Ministries to gauge the popular reaction to their policy and administration. Questions bring to the notice of the Ministers many an abuse which otherwise would have gone unnoticed. Sometimes questions may lead to the appointment of a commission, a court of enquiry or even legislation when matters raised are grave enough to agitate the public mind and are of wide public importance.
The Question Hour is an interesting part of the Parliamentary proceedings. Although a question mainly seeks information and tries to elicit facts on a particular subject, there are many a time lively and quicksilver repartees between the Members asking the questions and the Ministers answering them.
Questions are of four types
- A Starred Question is one to which a member desires an oral answer in the House and which is distinguished by an asterisk mark. When a question is answered orally, supplementary questions can be asked thereon. Only 20 questions can be listed for oral answer on a day.
- An Unstarred Question is one which is not called for oral answer in the House and on which no supplementary questions can consequently be asked. To such a question, a written answer is deemed to have been laid on the Table after the Question Hour by the Minister to whom it is addressed. It is printed in the official report of the sitting of the House for which it is put down. Only 230 questions can be listed for written answer on a day. In addition to this, 25 more questions can also be included in the Unstarred List relating to the States under Presidential Rule and the total number of questions in the list of Unstarred Questions for a day may not exceed 255 in relaxation of normal limit of 230 questions.
- A Short Notice Question is one which relates to a matter of urgent public importance and can be asked with shorter notice than the period of notice prescribed for an ordinary question. Like a starred question, it is answered orally followed by supplementary questions.
- The Question to a Private Member is addressed to the Member himself/herself and it is asked when the subjectmatter of it pertains to any Bill, Resolution or any matter relating to the Business of the House for which that Member is responsible. For such Questions, the same procedure is followed as in the case of Questions addressed to a Minister with such variations as the Speaker may consider necessary or convenient.
The Zero Hour denotes the time immediately following the Question Hour in both Houses of Parliament.
This is about 12 noon, which is why it is called Zero Hour. During this hour members can raise matters of great importance without prior 10 days notice.
However, the duration of the Zero Hour has varied over the years. It is not possible to predict what kind of matters might be raised during Zero Hour as there is no mention of any Zero Hour in the rules of the Parliament. It began as an informal practice in 1962. The idea behind zero hour is that there are certain matters of urgent public importance which cannot wait for 10 days notice.
Whenever Presiding Officers of the houses give directions to the Government or the Minister/Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs gives assurances on certain issues raised during ‘Zero Hour’ in the two Houses, the important extracts from the proceedings of the Houses relating to such matters are sent by the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs to the Minister concerned on the same day for such action as may be deemed necessary by the department.
The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs also sends relevant extracts from the proceedings relating to the matters raised during Zero Hour in the two Houses on which no directions or assurances are given, to the department concerned for information and such action as may be deemed necessary. The department may examine such matters and, if deemed necessary, send replies to the members under intimation to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.
All motions, notice of which is received in the Lok Sabha Secretariat under the rules, shall be classified under the following categories, namely:
- Substantive Motions.
- Substitute Motions.
- Subsidiary Motions, which are further divided into three classes:–
- Ancillary Motions
- Superseding Motions, and
The rules governing these motions are:
- Substantive Motions: A substantive motion is a self-contained independent proposal submitted for the approval of the House and drafted in such a way as to be capable of expressing a decision of the House, e.g., all resolutions are substantive motions.
- Substitute Motions: Motions moved in substitution of the original motion for taking into consideration a policy or situation or statement or any other matter are called substitute motions. Such motions, though drafted in such a way as to be capable of expressing an opinion by themselves, are not strictly speaking substantive motions inasmuch as they depend upon the original motion.
- Subsidiary Motions: They depend upon or relate to other motions or follow upon some proceedings in the House. They by themselves have no meaning and are not capable of stating the decision of the House without reference to the original motion or proceedings of the House. Subsidiary motions are further divided into:
- Ancillary Motions.
- Superseding Motions.
- Ancillary Motions: They are motions which are recognized by the practice of the House as the regular way of proceeding with various kinds of business. The following are the example of ancillary motions, namely:–
- That the Bill be taken into consideration.
- That the Bill be passed.
- Superseding Motions: They are motions which, though independent in form, are moved in the course of debate on another question and seek to supersede that question. In that class fall all the dilatory motions. The following motions are superseding motions in relation to the motion for taking into consideration a Bill:
- That the Bill be re-committed to a Select Committee.
- That the Bill be re-committed to a Joint Committee of the Houses.
- That the Bill be re-circulated for eliciting further opinion thereon.
- That consideration of the Bill or the debate on the Bill be adjourned sine die or to some future date.
- Amendments: They are subsidiary motions which interpose a new process of question and decision between the main question and its decision. Amendments may be to the clause of a Bill, to a resolution or to a motion, or to an amendment to a clause of a Bill, resolution or motion.
Amendment or Cut Motion
Where a motion, an amendment or a cut motion placed on the order paper in the names of several members is treated as moved on an indication being given by such members in writing to the Speaker, it shall be deemed to have been moved by the member whose name appears first on the order paper and if he is not present in the House or has not indicated his intention to move, then by the second member or the third member etc., who may be present and the name of only such member shall be shown in the proceedings as the mover of that motion, amendment or cut motion, as the case may be.
Amendment or Cut motion moved but not put to vote
When an amendment or a cut motion is moved but not put to the vote of the House by the Speaker and the original motion or demand for grant is passed by the House, the amendment or cut motion shall be deemed to have been negatived by the House.
Amendment or motion moved but not pressed
If at the end of the debate, a member who has moved an amendment or a motion which has also been proposed, informs that he does not want to press it and if thereupon the amendment or motion is not put to the vote of the House, such amendment or motion shall be deemed to have been withdrawn by the leave of the House
Provided that if any member requests the Chair to put the amendment or motion to the vote of the House, the amendment or motion shall be put to the vote of the House.
Order of putting substitute motions to vote
When substantive motions have been moved by members in substitution of a motion under rule 342, the Speaker may, in his discretion, put them to the vote of the House in the following order:–
- Motions expressing disapproval of the policy or action of Government referred to in the original motion; and
- Motions expressing approval of the policy or action of Government referred to in the original motion.
Where any of the substantive motions moved in substitution of a motion under rule 342, is not put to the vote of the House by the Speaker, and any such other substantive motion in substitution of the same motion is passed by the House, the one not put to the House shall be deemed to have been negatived by the House or barred, as the case may be
Date for report in motion for reference of a Bill to Select Joint Committee
When a motion is moved for reference of a Bill to a Select Committee or to a Joint Committee of the Houses with the concurrence of the Rajya Sabha, the motion shall specify a definite date on or before which the Select Committee or the Joint Committee shall be instructed to report:
- Provided that if on the date specified the House is not in session, the report shall be submitted to the Speaker who shall cause it to be laid before the House as soon as possible after the reassembly of the House.