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Saturday, January 23, 2021

New Parliament will be a monument to cultural diversity of Indian democracy

Arjun Ram Meghwal writes: The new Parliament building will be a fitting tribute to Indian democracy on its 75th year of independence.

Written by Arjun Ram Meghwal | Updated: January 8, 2021 8:44:50 am
An artist’s impression of the new Parliament.

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, several historical milestones helped Indians to achieve their goal of Swaraj. 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. Public representatives were elected for the first time in 1921. These reforms resulted in the creation of a bicameral legislature. To accommodate the legislators, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker designed the present Parliament building, which 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 over 135 crore today, so has the number of people represented by an individual MP.

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 runs out of chairs for MPs.

Since Parliament is a heritage building, there are severe limitations to the structural repair, alteration and modifications that can be made. The existing 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. 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 on 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 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.

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 atmanirbhar 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.

India has imbibed democratic values and these are a part of our cultural ethos —be it the 12th-century Anubhava Mantapa of Bhagwan Basava or Buddhism from the sixth century BCE onwards, which taught 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 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 Supreme Court verdict has provided a green signal to the government to go 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 will be a fitting tribute to Indian democracy on its 75th year of independence.

This article first appeared in the print edition on January 8, 2021 under the title ‘A House for new India’. The writer is Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises.

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