After Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone on December 10 for an ultra-modern triangular Parliament building, a lot of debate has centred around the need for a new structure and whether public money should be spent by the Government now. This new structure is to replace the 93-year-old circular Parliament House, which was designed by architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in 1912-13 and inaugurated in 1927.
The new building, having a seating capacity of 1,224 MPs sitting together, should be completed before Winter Session 2022, in accordance with Modi’s desire for a grand celebration when India turns 75.
But the actual construction, however, cannot begin immediately, with a petition pending the Supreme Court challenging the project. The apex Court allowed the conduct of the foundation-laying ceremony.
Like all pet projects of the NDA, which may have been inspired by Modi’s desire for world-class infrastructure for India, this project has also raised questions about its need and the spending of huge sums of public money. Some of these questions are being heard by the Supreme Court.
The opposition parties, particularly the Congress, have called it a ‘criminal waste of money’ at a time when the country is battling a severe Covid-19 crisis. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram even went to the extent of saying that “the foundation for a new Parliament building was laid on the ruins of a liberal democracy”.
Ultimately, everything will depend on the verdict of the Supreme Court.
A lot of historical sentiments are attached to the old building. The Central Legislative Assembly and Council of State, which was established in 1921, functioned from this place. The transfer of power from Britain to India also took place within its precincts.
Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech from the Central Hall of Parliament. The Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution of India, in the Central Hall of the Parliament.
Over the years, three new buildings had to be added because of the workload on Parliament. The Parliament House Annexe came up in 1975; the Parliament Library Building in 2002, and the extension to Parliament House Annexe was done in 2017.
Not a new idea
But what is clear is that it is not Modi’s original idea that India should have a new Parliament building. Two former Lok Sabha Speakers, Meira Kumar and her successor, Sumitra Mahajan, had drawn the attention of the Government to the condition of the Parliament House, which has required crores of rupees from time for maintenance.
During the Congress-led UPA rule, Meira Kumar’s Officer on Special Duty (OSD) sent a formal letter to the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, stating that the construction of a new Parliament building should be given top priority.
The letter dated, July 13, 2012, stated, “The Parliament building was constructed in the 1920s and commissioned in 1927. It has been declared a Heritage Grade 1 building. Over the decades, on account of ageing and overuse, the Parliament House building has started showing signs of distress at various places.”
The letter had also sought instructions to the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) from the Urban Development Ministry for identifying an area in the proximity to the Parliament House Complex for the same, so that construction of a new Parliament building could begin. Meira Kumar’s successor Sumitra Mahajan had echoed a similar view.
Source: Free Press Journal