A monumental marvel!
Political opposition and its relevance aside, the new Parliament building, with state-of-the-art facilities and greater accommodative space, is a timely response to necessities created over time
The old Greek saying, ‘history repeats itself’, goes well with the opening of an impressive new Parliament building, which is indeed a historic event and intended to mark the foundation of India’s glorious future.
Amid a series of controversies, right from not inviting constitutional head President Droupadi Murmu for the inauguration to installation of “sengol” as a symbol to adopt or signify the beginning of a new phase, the opening ceremony of the new building was successfully conducted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was accompanied by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla.
With this, May 28, 2023 has become the immortal signature on the face of time as PM Modi dedicated the new parliament building to the people of the country by unveiling the plague and installing the sengol, also called the Dharma and Nyaya Danda inside the parliament as a symbol of the transfer of power from the clutches of the British era to the Bharat era.
The new Parliament building, which is claimed to be a new architectural marvel, was built and commissioned in a record time of 2 years and 5 months. However, the building is closed to finish the remaining works prior to the commencement of Monsoon session that generally begins in July.
The foundation stone for the new building was laid by PM Modi on December 10, 2020 and inaugurated on May 28, 2023, while the construction of the old parliament building took six years from 1921 to 1927 and it was originally called the Council House and housed the Imperial Legislative Council, the legislature of British India.
All those who became the witness of inauguration of “New Bhavan” have summed up the ceremony as a “New Journey” of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while those who didn’t make it due to political compulsions dubbed the event as “Showman Modi’s Mega Magical Show” to divert the attention of people from the real issues of national importance like unemployment, poverty, inflation, corruption, plight of farmers, etc.
No doubt, there are multiple burning issues that need to be addressed with due diligence, but when it comes at acknowledging the foundation of India’s glorious future, policymakers from opposition parties should have set a new milestone by participating in the inauguration ceremony, as 20 Opposition parties had boycotted the opening event of new Parliament building on the issue of keeping President and Vice-President away from the inaugural ceremony.
The ruling party should have also presented a noble gesture by taking all opposition leaders on board to witness the historic moment.
Besides other issues, the date chosen for the inauguration also became a bone of contention for some political parties, as May 28 coincides with the birth anniversary of Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar.
According to a joint statement issued by the Opposition parties, Prime Minister Modi’s decision to inaugurate the new parliament building by himself, completely side-lining President Murmu, is not only a grave insult but a direct assault on our democracy, which demands a commensurate response.
Commenting on the inaugural event, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a jibe at PM Modi by saying that he is considering the inauguration of the new building as a coronation ceremony. “Parliament is the voice of the people! The Prime Minister is considering the inauguration of the Parliament House as a coronation.” Gandhi had said after the opening ceremony.
At the same time, the logic being used to defend PM Modi-led NDA government’s move to ‘go solo’ and project himself as the ‘lone crusader’ of historical ramifications can never be justified. There is a team and the role of each member is equally important in creating history.
There is no end to these debates, and it should be continued for a healthy democracy. Still, there are other aspects of the new Parliament building that need to be discussed and explained for better understanding of the requirements of a spacious house for policymakers.
While inaugurating the new Parliament building, the Prime Minister said that this is not merely a building but is a reflection of the aspirations and dreams of 140 crore Indians. “This is a temple of our democracy that gives a message of India’s resolution to the world. The new Parliament building connects planning to reality, policy to realization, willpower to execution, and sankalp to siddhi. This will be a medium for realizing the dreams of the freedom fighters.”
“It will witness the sunrise of Aatmnirbhar Bharat and will see the realization of a Viksit Bharat (developed India). The new building is an example of the coexistence of ancient and modern,” PM Modi asserted.
Pointing out the difficulties faced by the Parliamentarians in getting work done in the old Parliament building, and giving examples of challenges due to the lack of technical facilities as well as paucity of seats in the House, the Prime Minister said, “The need for a new Parliament was being discussed for decades and it was the need of the hour that a new Parliament should be developed.”
The PM is right in this way. The existing Parliament building has a capacity to accommodate 543 seats in Lok Sabha and 250 seats in Rajya Sabha. The representation of Lok Sabha members has been fixed on the basis of 1971 Census-based delimitation and the total number of seats in both the Houses of Parliament is freezed till 2026, which means seats in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will witness a significant increase after 2026.
Keeping in view of this, the new Parliament building has the capacity to accommodate 888 members in Lok Sabha and 348 in Rajya Sabha. So, in total, the new House has the seating capacity for 1,236 parliamentarians instead of 793 members in the old building. The old building will also be completing 100 years of its existence in 2027.
In addition to the two legislative chambers, the new complex will also feature a remarkable addition in the form of a centrally located ‘Constitutional Hall’.
Unlike the old Parliament House, the new one will not feature a Central Hall – a place used to conduct joint sessions by installing additional chairs and the space for a limited number of journalists where they used to chat with leaders over a spectrum of political issues.
Instead, the Lok Sabha Hall in the new Parliament House is being designed to easily accommodate joint sessions. It will be able to seat 1,272 people, eliminating the need to install additional chairs during joint sessions.
The new building will also house six committee rooms equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual systems — a significant improvement compared to the present structure, which has only three such rooms.
Unlike the circular shape of the old Parliament building, the new building takes on a triangular shape to optimize space utilization, covering an area of approximately 64,500 square metres.
Even though there are spacious galleries for the public to witness the House proceedings in the new building, there is a buzz that journalists would have to ‘face’ procedural diktats while covering the proceedings.
According to the Lok Sabha Secretariat, the new building has an area of 64,500 sq. metres as compared to 24,281 sqm of the old building. Also, the old building has numbered gates ranging from 1 to 12, while the new building has entrance gates named Gyan Dwar, Skhati Dwar and Karma Dwar.
According to the official Central Vista website, around 2,500 stonecutters and masons were employed just to shape the stones and marbles required for the construction of the building.
The circular building has 144 cream sandstone pillars, each measuring 27 feet and the total cost of construction then was Rs 83 lakh. The new building has been at a cost of Rs 971 crore.
At a time when most of the Bills are passed with minimal or without any discussion, Parliament sits for fewer days in a year and parliamentary sessions are often adjourned, the questions are being raised as how new Parliament building would help in building confidence among all the stakeholders for a transparent law-making, which has been substituted by presidential ordinances.
THE SENGOL CONTROVERSY
The word Sengol first came to notice after “unofficial” reports in the media that a “historical and sacred” symbol received by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was lying in the Allahabad Museum along with his other items, and that it will be given its due place of pride in the new Parliament building on May 28.
Referring to the establishment of sacred Sengol, the Prime Minister said that in the great Chola empire, Sengol was seen as a symbol of the path of service duty and nation. Under the guidance of Rajaji and Adheenam, this Sengol became the sacred symbol of the transfer of power.
“It is our good fortune that we could restore the dignity of this sacred Sengol. This Sengol will keep on inspiring us during the proceedings of the House”, the PM said after installing Sengol just next to the chair of Lok Sabha Speaker, following a proper religious ceremony conducted by religious heads of South India. The task of Sengol transfer was commissioned by the representatives of the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam.
According to the BJP leaders, the gifting of the sceptre by the mutt’s pontiffs was a part of multiple rituals that took place during the transfer of power in 1947.
The claim is that “Mountbatten asked Nehru how the reins of India be handed over, who subsequently asked Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, who said that it should be done in the way it was done centuries ago by south India’s Chera, Chola and Pandya dynasties.
The suggestion was accepted and he was given the responsibility of making complete arrangements. The ceremony was organised before midnight, and a special song was also sung when Nehru accepted the Sengol”. However, experts say that there is not enough evidence to prove the claims being made by the government.
According to a historian of South India, Manu Pillai, a Sengol or Chengol is a royal sceptre that signifies kingship, righteousness, justice and authority and its origin lies in Tamil Nadu, which served as a kingly emblem.
“Among the Madurai Nayakas, the Sengol was placed before the goddess Meenakshi in the great temple on important occasions and then transferred to the throne room, representing the king’s role as a divine agent. It was also a legitimatizing instrument as Sethupathis of Ramnad kingdom had acquired a ritually sanctified Sengol from priests of the Rameshwaram temple when they first attained kingly status in the 17th century,” the historian said in a published article.
Reacting to the claims of the government that Sengol was the symbol of transfer of power from British to Indian hands, he said that this is for the government to explain as if it was a critical symbol of the transfer, it is somewhat surprising that very few had heard of this until the summer of 2023.
KNOW YOUR NEW PARLIAMENT
* It is part of the Central Vista Project – the ongoing redevelopment project to revamp India’s central administrative area (designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker during British colonial rule) located near Raisina Hill, New Delhi.
* It is designed by Ahmedabad-based HCP Design, planning and management were done under architect Bimal Patel, and has been built by Tata Projects Ltd.
* A “Platinum-rated Green Building” will be divyang friendly
* The triangular shape ensures the optimum utilisation of space.
* There is a larger Lok Sabha Hall (888 seats) based on the peacock theme (India’s national bird) and a larger Rajya Sabha hall (384 seats) based on the lotus theme (India’s national flower).
* The Lok Sabha may accommodate up to 1,272 seats for joint sessions of Parliament.
* It has a state-of-the-art Constitutional Hall
* A Central Lounge that will complement the open courtyard (with a banyan – the national tree) will be a place for members to interact with each other.
* It has ultra-modern state-of-the-art features like a digitised voting system, well-engineered acoustics and audio-visual systems in the two chambers.
* There are murals depicting maps of ancient India-protected monuments of ASI and UNESCO, etc.
* Three ceremonial entrance halls with huge brass images of Mahatma Gandhi, Chanakya, Gargi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, BR Ambedkar, and the Chariot Wheel from the Sun Temple at Konark are on display.
THE OLD PARLIAMENT
* At the coronation of George V as Emperor of India in 1911, it was announced to transfer the seat of Government of India from Calcutta to the ancient capital of Delhi
* The shift to capital necessitated a new house for a bicameral legislature under the provisions enacted in the GoI Act 1919
* The parliament building’s construction took six years (1921 to 1927) and cost Rs 83 lakh. Its circular shape is believed to be inspired by the Chausath Yogini temple at Mitawali village in MP’s Morena district.
* The current Parliament building was built when Delhi was in Seismic Zone-II; currently it is in Seismic Zone-IV, which raises structural safety concerns.
* Over the years, inner service corridors were converted into offices that resulted in poor-quality workspaces. In many cases, these workspaces were made even smaller by creating sub-partitions to accommodate more workers.
EK BHARAT SHRESHTHA BHARAT
* The carpets in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh
* The Bamboo flooring inside the building is from Agartala in Tripura
* In line with Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, the sandstone has been procured from Sarmathura in Rajasthan.
* The Kesharia green stone, installed inside the Lok Sabha chamber, has been brought from Rajasthan’s Udaipur.
* Red granite, installed inside the Rajya Sabha chamber, was brought from Ajmer’s Lakha and the white marbles from Ambaji in Rajasthan.
* The teakwood has been procured from Maharashtra’s Nagpur.
* Furniture installed inside was crafted in Mumbai.
* The lattice work by stone surrounding the building were brought from Rajasthan, Noida and Uttar Pradesh.
* False ceilings structures made of steel were procured from Daman and Diu.
* Materials used in sculpting Ashoka Emblem were brought from Aurangabad and Jaipur.
* Both Ashoka Chakras installed inside upper and lower Houses were sourced from Indore.
* Sculptors from Abu Road in Udaipur did the stone carving work, and stone aggregates were brought from Kotputali.
Views expressed are personal