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What is Zero hour in Parliament

Posted by Admin on July 14, 2014 | Comment

We are quite accustomed to see members of Parliament asking questions during the Question Hour. That’s how Parliament begins its day when it’s in session. Apart from the Question Hour, Parliament allocates additional time slot for the members to discuss issues. Although it’s not recognized in our parliamentary procedure, ‘Zero Hour’ has now become a norm in both the houses of Parliament.

What is Zero hour in Parliament

History of Zero Hour

It was during the 1960s when several issues of national and international importance used to be raised by members of Parliament immediately after Question Hour. On one such occasion, a member raised an issue pertaining to policy announcements made by the ministers outside Parliament when Parliament was in session. This act triggered an idea among other members who called for another provision for discussing important matters in the House.

As the 9th Lok Sabha Speaker, Rabi Ray introduced certain changes in the proceedings of the House to create more opportunities for the members to raise matters of urgent public importance. He proposed a mechanism to regulate the proceedings during the ‘Zero Hour’, raise matters in a more orderly manner and optimize the time of the House.

Why is it called ‘Zero Hour’

While dictionary defines ‘Zero Hour’ as the “the critical moment” or “the moment of decision”, in parliamentary parlance, it is referred as the time gap between the end of Question Hour and the beginning of the regular business. Zero Hour doesn’t find a mention in the Rules of Procedure and hence it’s considered an informal procedure for the members of Parliament to raise matters of serious importance. The other rationale behind naming it so can be traced to the fact that it starts at 12 noon.

 Zero Hour – Rules & Regulations

Members wishing to raise matters during the “Zero Hour” need to give notice to the Speaker prior to the start of the daily session. The notice should clearly state the subjects they want to raise. The Speaker is the final authority who can either reject or accept such request.

In Lok Sabha, only 20 matters are allowed to be raised during the Zero Hour. Again, it is the Speaker who decides which subjects are to be discussed in the first phase (after Question Hour) and which other issues could be taken up during the second phase (after 6 pm/ at the end of the regular business). In Rajya Sabha, total number of requests is not allowed to exceed seven on a single day. The total time allocated for Zero Hour is 30 minutes wherein a member gets three minutes to raise the issue. The session should be completed before 1 pm. Moreover, a member is allowed to make only one Zero Hour request during a week. It is not mandatory to have a Zero Hour every day during the session.

Proceedings during Zero Hour

During the Zero Hour, the members of both the Houses get a chance to raise matters of public importance that need immediate attention. Only after the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs gives assurances on the issues raised during ‘Zero Hour’, the relevant extracts from the proceedings are sent to the concerned ministry on the same day. The ministry takes over from there and initiates actions as deemed fit. Even if no assurance of action is given, the extracts are sent to the concerned departments. They may reply to the members after intimating the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.

Significance of Zero Hour in Present Scenario

The Zero Hour concept has gained popularity because of the freedom its gives to any member irrespective of party affiliations to ask questions and seek immediate answers. Over the years, Zero Hour has come to be known as an important ‘device’ to air grievances and reaffirm Parliament’s role as a platform for debate.