Death without data

Scrapping of Question Hour negation of accountability

Death without data

Photo for representation only. - PTI photo

Parliament without Question Hour is a mere debating society, where men and women of privilege congregate to help conduct government business. People’s will and aspirations are expressed and the government made accountable when questions are asked of the rulers, their follies exposed and curative prescriptions debated. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi quoted data of time wasted during Question Hour — 60 per cent in Rajya Sabha and 40 per cent in Lok Sabha — to justify the Covid-time decision to do away with the all-important parliamentary practice. A question often jolts a minister and his bureaucracy awake to the misdemeanours of the department; and the apprehension of pointed supplementaries to a starred question forces even an insensitive government to offer replies and solutions. Suspension of Question Hour is the negation of accountability.

Or else, the government would not have dared to vacuously respond in writing that it does not have data on deaths of migrant labour due to the lockdown. The reverse migration of honest, hard-working labourers, often on foot, from cities to villages was a story of their rectitude and also one of untold suffering inflicted by a government decision, which only has a parallel in the Partition of 1947. Deaths were reported by the Railway Protection Force and by the media, as in the case of sleeping workers getting mowed down on a railway track or deaths by suicide of penniless breadwinners. But the labour ministry has no data. Nor does it have any on job losses during the lockdown. The World Bank had pointed at the loss of livelihood for 40 million migrants in April. The Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy has assessed the loss of 21 million salaried jobs, which are difficult to regain.

Meanwhile, at the opening of the monsoon session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reminded parliamentarians that they have a special responsibility to support the country’s brave soldiers. Sure, they do; but the government has a greater responsibility to explain why 20 soldiers, including their Commanding Officer, were killed in Ladakh. Let there be answers.

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