June 28, 2020

No Need for a New Parliament Building

T K Rangarajan

THE worldwide fight against the novel Coronavirus pandemic is far from over. The developed countries appear to be in greater turmoil. In the consequent protracted lockdown, the workers are the most affected of all. The economy of the nations had also suffered considerable downslide.

The economic relief package announced for mitigating the woes is not only non-transparent but all sections including the experts are sceptic over accomplishing the desired results.  But in the melee, the prime minister Narendra Modi and the government headed by him, have indulged in an un-wanton mega construction work which is causing a lot of concern.

The British ruled India till 1911 from Kolkata and the then parliamentary council meetings were used to be conducted in their state headquarters building. Having regard to the fact that Delhi is located in a central place geographically the British changed their capital to Delhi.

Following this, in Delhi, they needed to scout a place to convene the parliamentary council meetings. The job was entrusted to Montague Thomas. The old secretariat building in Alipore Road, where the current Delhi state assembly meetings are taking place now, was fully constructed in the year 1912 and the first meeting took place on January 27, 1913. Till 1926 the council meetings were held here only.

From 1912 onwards till 1926, the national council meetings were taking place in this historically famous building. The general budget, railway budget and statutes relating to reforms on railways and many such things were discussed and passed in the meetings held here.

Senior parliamentarians participated in the debate relating to Roulette Act. They demonstrated here against the act and declared it as an abrogation of the rights and liberties of the individual citizens. Mahatma Gandhi was a witness to these deliberations from the viewing gallery.

The present parliamentary building, where the Indian parliament is functioning today, was built by the Architects/Engineers  Edwin Lutyen and Herbert Baker and it was inaugurated on January 18, 1927, by the then Governor-General of India, Lord Irwin. The third meeting of the Indian parliament took place on January 19, 1927, in this building.

The declaration of Indian Independence was announced from this building by Jawaharlal Nehru. The 1947 ministry formed by Jawaharlal Nehru and the Constituent Assembly of India functioned from here. It is from here the Indian constitution was adopted with the valuable contributions of Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and other dignitaries.

A debate was going on whether to improve and continue to function from this building or build a new one, during the Congress coalition rule and no decision was taken then. But now, a scheme named ‘Central Vista’ with the aim of constructing a new parliamentary building has been initiated as a dream project of the prime minister, Narendra Modi.

They are contemplating to build it at the cost of twenty thousand crores of Indian rupees, in 86 acres of land. The new parliamentary building, the prime minister's official residence behind the South block, the official residence of the vice-president behind the North block; all will be built in this project.  Currently, the parliamentarians seated in the first two rows only will have a desk facility. The architects of the Central Vista scheme will take enough care to provide such facilities for all.

In order to do this efficiently, they have visited the parliamentary buildings of Italy, Germany, Cuba and other countries all over the world. They want to complete the building before the year 2024.

Their documents say that the new building will reflect the rich traditions and culture of the Indian parliament. And the newly built edifice will be alive as a symbol of our heritage for another 150 to 200 years.

The project will be completed and be declared open during the 75th anniversary of the Indian independence i.e., in the year 2022. Any improvements needed as part of the project will be completed by 2024.  In the meanwhile, a petition seeking to ban the project of Central Vista was considered and rejected by the Supreme Court of India.

The plan for construction of a new parliamentary building was not at all discussed in the current parliament and it is not approved by them. The architects and construction engineers and experts who are executing the construction could not take the guidance of the current parliament. This anomaly attracted a lot of criticism amongst everybody.

When I was a member of the Rajya Sabha, I wrote a letter to the joint secretary, Pradeep Chaturvedi on October 29, 2019, and recorded my views and objections on this matter.

The British parliament has a seating capacity of 427, whereas the number of parliamentary seats has been increased to 650. So, while the meeting takes place, those who attend the session, if they come late, they will have to stand and take place in the parliamentary proceedings. But the British rulers have not decided to construct a new building.

The French parliamentary building was constructed in the year 1722 and the Italian parliamentary building was constructed in the year 1871. Currently, both Italian and French parliaments are taking place in the very same buildings. The German parliamentary building was constructed in the year 1894 and even after a fire accident, they did the renovation and the German parliament takes place in the same old building.

So, throughout the world, the historical and culturally rich heritage buildings are still being used for conducting their respective parliament meetings. The Indian parliament building also represents such a rich tradition, where tall leaders of all Indian political streams participated in the nation-building.

Today, the economic recession is haunting the nation and there is no purchasing power in the hands of the people. The former chairman of the Wipro group, Azim Premji and the senior industrialist, Venu Srinivasan of TVS and many such people are asking the government to transfer money in the bank accounts of the common people.

Warding of the economic crisis and alleviating the sufferings of the common man - both being the current challenges in front of the central government, the people dread to think, why they should indulge in wasteful expenditure of 20,000 crores of Indian rupees for constructing a new building for the parliament.

The temple of democracy is the parliament and Narendra Modi touched the entrance steps of our parliamentary building reverently as he entered the parliament for the first time in 2014. The real saviours of democracy are the people of the country. When the people are in real trouble, instead of helping them overcome the situation, any attempt to construct a new ‘temple for democracy’ will not be taken kindly by the people of this country.

Saving the people is akin to saving the democracy of the nation. Keeping this in mind, the government should give up their Central Vista project. The historical identities represent a rich and inclusive culture and heritage of this nation. Demolishing this heritage will in itself not help to build a new India.