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Saturday, July 04, 2020

Out of my mind: A new Parliament for a new India

China's National Assembly has 2,987 members. As the largest democracy, India should expect no less.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: January 3, 2016 12:57:19 pm
out of my mind, india, india independence, india new parliament, india british raj, congress, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Sumitra Mahajan, lok sabha, rajya sabha, China National Assembly The Parliament House.

When Independence came in 1947, there was no attempt to break with the colonial past. The New Rulers came out of their class. A status from jail and went on to occupy the palaces and offices of their old rulers. Names were changed, Kingsway became Rajpath, the Viceregal Lodge Rashtrapati Bhavan. Lutyens bungalows and Baker buildings remained, Pakistan built itself a brand new capital city in Islamabad which is stunning. India made do with New Delhi which was already old by 1947. India slid into Congress Raj from British Raj. Nothing much needed to change. Macaulay continued to rule.

Now at last, we have a demand for change. Sumitra Mahajan, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, has seen that India has outgrown its parliamentary buildings. These were commissioned in 1927 with a foresight that India would be on way to a dominion status and would require its own parliamentary buildings. The chambers were built to suit the 1935 Act by which princely states were going to send representatives to the Council of States or Rajya Sabha. There was to be a Central Assembly Hall for the popular house and the council of states to meet occasionally.

Alas, the 1935 Act was aborted and undivided India never came to occupy the parliamentary buildings.

Now they need to be abandoned and new structures to be built. The Speaker has quite rightly asked for a brand new design. This new structure will have to accommodate more than the present 545 Lok Sabha members as the number of constituencies will go up after the 2021 Census. But surely, there needs to be improvement in design. At the very least, the present structure which allows members to rush to the Well should be eliminated. Look at the European Parliament to see the state-of-art seating arrangement for each member with a separate desk to put their laptops and other items. The chamber is spacious, airy and brightly lit. It does not look like a busy street corner that the two chambers look when members are shouting across at each other which they do everyday. Someone proposed that the Speaker should have a button at hand which she can press to bring down a grill door enclosing each side within its confines so they cannot rush to the Well!

Ideally, the Lok Sabha needs to be much larger than it is now. How can 850 million voters be represented by 545 members? At the very least there should be one member per million voters.

Ideally, there should be two, with one woman at least per constituency. UK has 650 MPs for 65 million people. There is no reason why there should not be 1,500/2,000 members of the Lok Sabha. China’s National Assembly has 2,987 members. As the largest democracy, India should expect no less.

Of course, while we are at it, why not build a new capital city for which a brand new design can be commissioned?

Delhi is too crowded, too polluted and too ungovernable to serve as a capital for much longer. Make a smart, digital, green metropolis in the middle of India, a new capital for a new India. The vast area of Dandakaranya which straddles several states would be an ideal location.

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