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Saturday, January 16, 2021

A new Parliament for New India

The new Parliament building will be a monument to the cultural diversity of the world's largest democracy. It will be the most magnificent and attractive monument in the world

Written by Arjun Ram Meghwal | Updated: January 6, 2021 7:20:42 pm
A new Parliament for New IndiaThe newly-inaugurated Parliament building is a case in point – it will showcase the broad trajectory of growth in the years to come. (PTI File photo)

We have entered the 21st year of the 21st century. The nation is on a transformative journey to fulfil the aspirations of its citizens. A century ago, in the same decade, several historical milestones took place that helped Indians to eventually achieve their goal of Swaraj. The planning for the future in the ongoing decade will now go a long way towards fulfilling the aspirations of a proud democratic country. The newly-inaugurated Parliament building is a case in point – it will showcase the broad trajectory of growth in the years to come.

The Montague-Chelmsford reforms resulted in the participation of Indians in the governance and administration of the country through the Government of India Act 1919. In 1921, public representatives were elected for the first time.

These reforms resulted in the creation of a bicameral legislature. To implement these reforms on the ground and accommodate the legislators, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker designed the present Parliament building. Beginning in 1921, it took six years to build the structure. This building has stood the test of time. The first Lok Sabha had 489 seats and each MP represented, on an average, seven lakh people. As the country’s population has increased from 36.1 crores in 1951 to more than 135 crore today, so has the number of people represented by an individual MP. Nowadays, MPs have to manage day-to-day affairs, monitor developmental projects and schemes from their camp offices. A need was felt for an institutional & infrastructural set up for them to facilitate coordination with various departments and to ensure the smooth delivery of public services in the national capital.

The idea of a new structure for Parliament is not a recent one — two former Speakers highlighted this need as the number of parliamentary staff, security personnel, media visitors, and parliamentary activities have seen a steep rise. During a Joint Session, the Central Hall is jam-packed and a few MPs have to sit on additionally-arranged chairs.

Since Parliament is a heritage building, there are severe limitations to the structural repair, alteration and modifications that can be made. The existing Parliament building lacks several safety features such as earthquake-proofing, a standard fireproofing system and also has inadequate office space. This necessitated the demand for a modern building and several members voiced this need. In 2012, Meera Kumar, the then Lok Sabha Speaker, accorded approval for the new Parliament building. Similarly, in 2016, former speaker Sumitra Mahajan suggested that the urban development ministry initiate the new Parliament building’s construction. Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Union Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Puri have solicited suggestions from parliamentarians and other stakeholders to address their needs through the proposed new Parliament building and the ambitious Central Vista project.

Article 81 of the Indian Constitution provides for the delimitation of parliamentary constituencies. Since the last delimitation exercise was conducted based on the 1971 census, the ongoing freeze on increasing the state-wise distribution of seats will end in 2026. Subsequently, the number of MPs will undoubtedly increase, which poses an urgent demand for appropriate arrangements for the upcoming legislators.

It is the farsighted vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — dedicating the new Parliament building to the country by the 75th year of Independence in 2022 — which will nurture the atma nirbhar (self-reliant) nation’s aspiration. Under the Central Vista redevelopment project, the new Parliament building’s indigenous architecture will represent the cultural diversity and strengthen the “Ek Bharat-Shrestha Bharat” spirit. The red Dholpur stone of Rajasthan will provide a great look to this temple of democracy. This more spacious, energy-efficient, accessible and tech-friendly building will have a seating capacity of 1,224 MPs. It will ramp up the speed of breaking the silos between Parliament and various government departments and save more than Rs 1,000 crore annually for the exchequer.

India has imbibed democratic values and these are a part of our cultural ethos — be it the 12th-century Anubhava Mantapa of Bhagwan Basva or Buddhism from the sixth century BCE onwards, which taught co-existence and liberty, equality and fraternity to the world. B R Ambedkar, chairman of the Constitution’s draft committee, lucidly elaborated these facts during the Constituent Assembly debates. The US’s present parliamentary building was constructed within 25 years of its independence; it took 70 years to build its parliament. In 1988, Australia proudly dedicated its new parliament building in Canberra. Thus, it is imperative to effectively undertake this historical exercise to develop our post-colonial People’s Parliament. This glorious project will depict India’s democratic tradition and represent India as the mother of democracy in a real sense. The Parliament building of the largest democracy will be the most magnificent and attractive monument in the world.

The new Parliament Redevelopment Plan is also executing an amalgam of futuristic e-governance measures to strengthen democracy. Under the umbrella of the Digital India Mission, the parliamentary affairs ministry is implementing the National E-Vidhan Project (NeVA), combining all 39 Houses across all the 31 State/UTs, six Councils and Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

Meeting the 21st-century’s challenges are constrained by 19th and 20th-century governance paradigms. This requires a pragmatic course correction. The Supreme Court verdict has provided a green signal to the government to move ahead with the Central Vista Project. The government has clarified that it will continue to adhere to the highest standards and be sensitive to environmental concerns during construction.

In the modern, technologically-connected world, all stakeholders’ roles demand a continuous recalibration over their rights and duties. Convergence is required among individualistic, collective and nationalistic goals. The new Parliament building’s commissioning, a symbol of Atmanirbharta, will be a fitting tribute to Indian democracy on its 75th year of independence. It will inspire us all to bring national interest to the spotlight. I appeal to everyone to actively engage themselves dutifully to build a self-reliant and prosperous India under the spirit radiating from the temple of democracy.

The writer is Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises

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