The first hour of every parliamentary sitting is generally allotted for questions. During this hour, the members ask questions and ministers more often than not give answers. Therefore, the first hour is called the Question Hour and has significance in the proceedings of the parliament. Asking questions is an inherent unfettered right of every member of the Parliament through which they can discuss issues about every aspect of the Government’s administration or policies.
To facilitate and further organise this process, the Rule of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha provide for four types of questions:-
, which is denoted by an asterisk mark. It is used when a member wishes an oral answer from the minister on the floor of the house. Since the answer sought is given orally, supplementary questions are generally allowed thereon.
, which does not call for an oral answer, but a written response. Supplementary questions are not allowed as answers are given in a written format. A written answer is deemed to be tabled by the Minister to whom the question is addressed to.
Both these types of questions are asked giving a minimum notice period of 15 days.
is asked about matters which are of urgent public importance. It is asked by giving a notice of less than 10 days. Like Starred question, it is answered orally and can be followed by supplementary questions.
is asked to the members (not ministers) of the house. The subject-matter of such question pertains to any bill, resolution, or any matter in relation to the business of the house for which the member is responsible.
Every MP can ask a set amount of questions. This means that the questions are abundant as the count for the total number of MPs, alone in Lok Sabha, stands at 543. Thus, it is not possible for the ministers and the house to answer and discuss every question. To resolve such an issue, every notice is first scrutinised for discrepancies, then 250 questions are selected through the ballot and are placed for discussion in the first hour of every session. Out of the selected, 20 are starred questions which the minister is to answer orally. While the remaining 230 questions are unstarred questions to which ministers reply in writing. A maximum of 25 questions more can also be included in the list of unstarred questions relating to the States under Presidential Rule.
Government policies, both national and international, come into sharp focus in this hour, and the members try to elicit pertinent information of public importance. The question hour also serves a few other purposes. Through this process, the Government is able to understand the pulse of the public, which guide them in adopting further policies. Members are able to ventilate public grievances on the Government’s action which helps the ministers to stay in touch with people of the nation. Sometimes members bring to the notice of the minister any fallacies or abuse within the administration which might have gone unnoticed.
There exists a certain criticism about this system since it’s a randomised system through which questions are asked often because of probability. Relevant questions are not taken while irrelevant questions are asked and answered, yet largely it is seen as a democratic way of parliamentary functioning. As the reports of the question asked and answers to these questions given by the minister are published for the general public, it helps in spreading relevant information and create informed public opinion.