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The history behind India's iconic circular Parliament

By Asim Kamal
December 10, 2020 16:01 IST
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India's iconic circular Parliament building may be readying to abdicate its position of preeminence to a brand new complex, but its historical relevance remains immortal and it was from here that the country embarked on its "tryst with destiny".

IMAGE: A bird-eye view of Parliament House during the clear weather, in New Delhi. Photograph: ANI Photo

It was this building where Bhagat Singh tried to "wake up the British masters", the Constitution came into being, the transfer of power took place from the British and the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowed before entering for the first time as an MP, and all of this cannot be forgotten, said former Lok Sabha Secretary General Subhash Kashyap.

 

Another former Lok Sabha Secretary General P D T Achary said the historical significance and importance of the current building should be maintained even as a new building was needed going forward.

He asserted that any attempt to "hide the building" with other surrounding buildings that would come up, will be "violence to history".

Kashyap expressed confidence that the construction of a new building cannot take away the historical importance of the current Parliament building.

"It is one of the best parliamentary buildings in the world. It should and I believe it will retain its historical importance," he said.

The current building has been witness to historic and epoch-changing events -- be it revolutionaries Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt throwing bombs to "wake up" the colonial rulers, the meeting of the Constituent Assembly or the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru making his famous "tryst with destiny" speech on the midnight of August 14-15, 1947.

The existing building is a British-era building, designed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker who were responsible for planning and construction of New Delhi.

The foundation stone of the existing Parliament House was laid on February 12, 1921, and the construction took six years and cost Rs 83 lakh at that time.

The opening ceremony was performed on January 18, 1927, by the then Governor-General of India, Lord Irwin.

The existing building marks a "glorious chapter" in the country's history and it was coming to an end with the new Parliament building set to come up, Achary said.

He said the current Parliament House cannot hold all the future MPs as their number would go up when the freeze on the number would be lifted in 2026 and it would not be possible to accommodate the members in the current establishment.

"Finding a new place is inevitable. For that, the sooner the better. That does not mean the kind of publicity that is being given, which shows that this old Parliament House is of not much significance while the new Parliament will be something much bigger and grander. That projection is not correct," Achary said.

"Building a new Parliament House is not a bad thing, but I have some reservation about the way it is being projected," he said.

Emphasising on the need for a new building, Kashyap said there is only a temporary check on the number of MPs as after 2026 the number of MPs is likely to increase, and then there will be no seating space for them.

"The needs of Parliament have to be taken care of. In the new technological age, the communication and info techniques call for a new building," he said.

Achary also slammed critics who criticise the current building for having colonial baggage, saying if the issue of "imperial stamp" is taken, the first building that will have to be demolished is the Rashtrapati Bhavan because that was the viceroy's house earlier.

"I believe that these buildings are some of the grandest buildings in the world and the whole layout of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the South Block and North Block and the Rajpath to India Gate, it's such a grand sight," he said.

"I have seen many parliaments in the world but this building stands out as a unique kind of building," Achary said.

The building has been witness to historic debates, momentous legislations and the growth of India's vibrant democracy. It also braved the 2001 attack by terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, in which nine people were killed inside the Parliament complex.

The current Parliament House building is a massive circular edifice 560 feet in diametre and the open verandah on the first floor is fringed with a colonnade of 144 creamy sandstone columns, each of 27 feet.

The focus of the building is the big circular edifice of the Central Hall. On the three axes radiating from this centre are placed the three Chambers for Lok Sabha (House of the People), Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the erstwhile Library Hall (formerly the Chamber of Princes) and between them lie the garden courts.

The Supreme Court of India also functioned from the erstwhile Chamber of Princes after it was inaugurated on January 28, 1950, till it moved to the present building in 1958.

The Central Hall is a place of great historical significance as the transfer of power on the midnight of August 14-15 from British to Indian hands took place in this hall.

The Indian Constitution was also framed in the Central Hall. The Constituent Assembly met there from December 9, 1946, to January 24, 1950.

Apart from the fact that the building was built with indigenous material and by Indian labour, the architecture of the building bears a close imprint of the Indian tradition.

The new building will have an area of 64,500 square metres and is being built at an estimated cost of Rs 971 crore. The construction of the new building is estimated to take 21 months and the government expects it to be ready by the 75th anniversary of India's independence in 2022.

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Asim Kamal
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