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, as it were, 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 administrationís 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. These repartees are sometimes coupled with flashes of wit and humour. That is why the public galleries and the press galleries are packed to capacity during the Question Hour.

Telecasting of Question Hour

With a view to familiarising the public at large about the manner in which the proceedings of the Houses of Parliament are conducted in the Question Hour and how their representatives raise various issues of national/international importance, proceedings of the Question Hour are being  telecast since 2 December 1991. Earlier the pre-recorded proceedings of the Question Hour were telecast by Doordarshan on the following day in the morning. From 7 December 1994, the proceedings of the Question Hour of both the Houses are being telecast live on alternate weeks throughout the country on the national channel of Doordarshan from 1100 hrs. to 1200 hrs. All India Radio is also broadcasting the proceedings of the Question Hour of both the Houses from 2200 hrs. to 2300 hrs. in the same night on their national hook up. It has been arranged in such a manner that during the telecast of the Question Hour of one House by Doordarshan, the Question Hour of the Other House is broadcast by All India Radio. In addition, the proceedings of the Question Hour and the entire post-lunch proceedings of Lok Sabha are being telecast live on a separate terrestrial channel through a Low Power Transmitter (LPT) with a reach of 10-15 kms, installed in Parliament House. The entire proceedings of Rajya Sabha are also being telecast live daily since 7 December 1994 through a separate LPT.

Types of Questions

Questions are of four types:ó

Starred, Unstarred, Short Notice Questions and Questions addressed to private Members :

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.

Notices of Questions

A member gives notice in writing addressed to the Secretary-General, Lok Sabha, intimating his intention to ask a question. Besides the text  of the question, the notice states clearly the official designation of the Minister to whom the question is addressed as also the date on which the question is desired to be placed on the list of questions for answer as also the order of preference, if any, for its being placed on the list of questions when a member tables more than one notice of questions for the same day.

The normal period of notice of a question is not more than twenty-one and not less than ten clear days. A short notice question can be asked with a notice shorter than ten days, but the member has to state briefly the reasons for asking the question at short notice.

Procedure in Lok Sabha Secretariat

On receipt of the notice of a question it is scrutinised to see that the designation of the Minister and date of answer have been correctly mentioned in the notice. A preliminary ballot of identical questions is held and the member who obtains priority is deemed to have tabled the question. A ballot is then held in respect of notices received in this Secretariat at the same time to determine their inter se priority. Separate ballots are held for starred and unstarred questions. Starred, unstarred and short notice questions are numbered separately and entered in separate diaries on computer software.

The next stage is to examine the question as to whether or not it is admissible under the rules and past precedents. A question is primarily  asked for the purpose of obtaining information on a matter of public importance. Questions that contain arguments, inferences or defamatory statements or otherwise refer to the character or conduct of any person except in his official or public capacity, are not admitted.  Questions which are in substance repetitions of those that have been answered previously or in regard to which information is available in accessible documents or in ordinary works of reference are also not admitted. Besides, if the subject matter of a question is pending for judgement before any court of law or any other tribunal or body set up under law or is under consideration before a Parliamentary Committee, the same is not permitted to be asked. Questions making discourteous references to foreign countries with whom India has friendly relations are disallowed. Similarly, questions raising larger issues of policy are not allowed for it is not possible to enunciate policies within the limited compass of an answer to a question. Questions containing more than 150 words or relating to a matter which is not primarily the concern of the Government of India are not admitted. Questions going into minor details of administration and day-to-day working of the Government/Organisations are also not admitted.

Keeping the above rules and precedents in view, a question is admitted or disallowed. Typed copies of the admitted and edited questions are  then made out on a standard form. An advance copy of the admitted question is informally collected by the Ministry/Department concerned so  that they may on their side initiate the action for collection of information asked for in the question to prepare a reply.

A Short Notice Question which is of wide public importance is first referred to the Ministry concerned if necessary for furnishing factual information in the matter and also for indicating whether the Minister concerned accepts the short notice and, if so, what date will be convenient to him to answer the question. If the Minister accepts the short notice and the matter sought to be raised is considered by the Speaker, urgent, the Short Notice Question is admitted and printed in a separate list on the light pink paper in order to distinguish from lists of ordinary questions. The Short Notice Question is taken up after the Question Hour.

Allotment of Days for Questions

Immediately on the fixation of the dates of sittings of a session of Lok Sabha, allotment is made of the days available for the answering of questions relating to the various Ministries of Government of India. For this purpose the various Ministries are divided into five Groups and fixed days are allotted to groups of Ministries during the week. There is no Question Hour on Saturday, if a sitting is fixed for that day. Separate lists are prepared for starred and unstarred questions which have been admitted. Admitted questions are entered in the List of Questions for the day for oral or written answers as the case may be, in the order of priority obtained in ballot with the orders of the Speaker. Not more than five questions are admitted in the name of a member for each sitting of which not more than one is put down for oral answer. While compiling the list of unstarred questions, care is taken to see that one question of each member is included in the list of questions of that date. The remaining unstarred questions are thereafter put in the list according to inter se priority obtained in the ballot. A serial number is allotted to each question. Normally not more than twenty questions are placed on the list of questions for oral answers and not more than two hundred and thirty questions are placed on the list of questions for written answers on any one day. The Ministries are supplied with the lists of finally admitted questions at least 5 days before the date fixed for asking the questions.

Mode of Asking Questions

The member whose question has been admitted and which is included in the list of questions for oral answers for a particular day, rises in his/her seat when the turn of his/her question comes and asks his/her question by reading out its number on the list of questions. The Minister concerned answers the question. Thereafter the member who had asked the question can ask only two supplementary questions. After him/her the second member whose name is clubbed on the question is allowed to ask one supplementary question. Thereafter, the Speaker allows one supplementary each to members who are able to catch his eye. The number of such members depends on the importance of the question. Then the next question is taken up. The replies to questions not reached for oral answer during the Question Hour are deemed to have been laid on the Table of Lok Sabha.   

At the end of the Question Hour, i.e. after the questions for oral answer have been answered, Short Notice Question, if any, for that day is taken up and disposed of in the same way as the questions for oral answers.

Half-an-Hour Discussion

Where answer to a question whether Starred or Unstarred needs elucidation on a matter of fact, any member can table a notice for raising Half-an-Hour Discussion thereon. If the notice is admitted and gets priority in ballot such a discussion may be allowed by the Speaker. Normally, such discussions are held on three days in a week, viz., Monday, Wednesday and Friday except in Budget Session when such discussion is normally not held till the financial business is completed. The discussion is usually held from 17.30 to 18.00 hrs. During the  discussion, the member who has given notice makes a short statement and not more than four other members, who have given advance notice before 11.00 hours on the day on which discussion is to be held are permitted to ask a question each for further elucidating any matter of fact. Thereafter, the Minister concerned replies.