16 Jul 2020 ( Please visit this link to read Hindi version of this article https://www.jagran.com/editorial/apnibaat-new-parliament-house-better-to-have-new-building-equipped-with-facilities-than-old-and-weak-building-of-parliament-20516701.html )
By Dr. Yogendra Narain (Ex-Secretary General, Rajya Sabha)
The present Parliament Building planned, designed and constructed under the supervision of Lutyens and Herbert Baker was inaugurated on 18th January 1927 by the then Governor General of India Lord Irwin.
It was meant primarily to house the Central Legislative Council. The Central Hall was designed to be the reading room of the Library of the Central Legislature. It was remodeled in 1946 when seating arrangements had to be made for the meetings of the Constituent Assembly by providing 396 seats on cushioned benches with folding flaps attached to the desks in front.
The Central legislature set up under the Government of India Act 1919, consisted of two Chambers , namely the Council of States with a membership of 60 and the Legislative Assembly with a membership of 145. The Chamber of the Legislative Assembly was again remodeled in 1947 to accommodate a much larger number of members when the Constituent Assembly took over the functions of the Central Legislature. The seating capacity was further increased to meet the requirements of the Provisional Parliament and of the new House which came into being after the first General Elections of 1952. In 1955, the total number of seats, which had by then gone upto 461 was further raised to 499. Subsequently the seats went up to 522, then to 530 and now presentlyupto 550 seats within the same building. Some of these extra seats, which were added, are,because of lack of space,located behind the standing pillars of the Lok Sabha and present an unseemly sight!
Though the number of members of the Lok Sabha has been frozen bya constitutional amendment, to the strength which existed based on the 1971 census and will not be increased till the first census after 2026, the strength is bound to increase after 2026.If the same ratio between the population of a constituency and the elected legislator is maintained, the strength of the Lok Sabha members will increase to almost 900 if not more. Where will they sit? How will they vote and how will they be heard? A new Parliament building with modern state of the art infrastructure is a must, and the planning must start now.
The present Parliament building has been tinkered with, from time to time , to meet adhoc requirements of the two Houses. A Canteen for members of Parliament, as well as the staff and guests, as well as journalists run by the Railways was set up out of the existing structure without considered planning. Its waste flows through old broken pipes to the sewerage system underneath.
The sewerage system, underneath the Chambers is in a dilapidated condition. I remember that one day,when I was Secretary General Rajya Sabha, a foul smell enveloped the entire Parliament building. The members refused to sit in the Halls as the smell was nauseating. The House had to be adjourned and the Engineers were directed to rectify the sewerage. They had a difficult time finding the maps of the building and locating the source of the smell! It is such an old building.
When we used to visit Parliaments abroad we found a world of difference. All European Parliaments are equipped with state of art facilities. Face recognition systems are in place. Their meeting halls are fitted with state of the art acoustics and voting systems. Our voting systems with lighted boards often fail as they are outdated.
In India when foreign dignitaries address Joint Houses of Parliament in the Central Hall ,there are not enough seats for the members of both the Houses. Further the seating for members of foreign missions is cramped. The members of the Press do not get proper sitting space. It is an embarrassing sight seeing even Ambassadors and other invited dignitaries trying to find sitting space , even though they have been formally invited.
Keeping in view all these factors as well as the probable expansion of the Houses in future,it is essential to have a Chamber to cater to the joint sitting of at least 1350 members. A new Chamber for the Lok Sabha of this capacity would be able to cater to the joint sitting of the two houses as well as the President’s address.
It has also to be kept in mind that the Parliament building should be able to cater to the working of the twenty four Parliamentary Committees. When the present Parliament was constructed there were no Standing Parliamentary CommitteesToday ,the position is that there is not enough space for holding of the meetings of the Parliamentary Committees and every time one has to do space location finding,whenever a sitting of the Committee is decided upon.
When Parliament is in session, it becomes necessary for the Ministers to be present in the Parliament House for the major part of the day. A number of rooms are placed at the disposal of the Leader of the House during session periods for allotment to Ministers. Office accommodation is also provided for Chairmen of Parliamentary Committees, which are now twenty four in number. As all these rooms have been carved out, literally from the existing structure, they present an awful sight. Ambassadors who call on the Ministers as well as members of the public go back with adverse impressions of the working of Parliament.
In sharp contrast are the rooms of the Senators and their staff in the US Senate and the US House of Representatives. Their cleanliness, and the spacious rooms constructed for them, leave the impression of an efficient working democracy. All the rooms are connected underground and we even have golf carts to transport visitors and members of the Congress from one end to another.
The Secretariat staff of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha has also increased substantially. There areabout 2000 employees and officers of the Lok Sabha and more than 1200 employees andofficers of the Rajya Sabha. They don’t have adequate space to sit and this affects their output. The new Secretariat Annexe has eased the accommodation to a certain extent for the Lok Sabha employees but not so for the Rajya Sabha employees.
Another reason why we should have a new Parliament building is for reasons of security. There is no nuclear and biological warfare shelter for the members of Parliament. If there is a nuclear or biological attack, there is no place to go. This was also the recommendation of a high level security team which inspected the Parliament building. The fire fighting arrangements are also primitive.
I am glad to note that the present government is thinking on the plans for a new Parliament building. It is a necessity. Instead of spending more than₹ 25 crores every year on maintaining this crumbling structure a new building with modern fittings and modern lighting and fire fighting systemsshould be constructed. Our Indian architects and our Indian construction workerswith utilization of local materials can construct a new Parliament which will have an Indian flavor. It should be a model and a showpiece for the democracies of the developing world.This will also improve the Central vista, along with the other reorganization plans on the anvil.
The existing Parliament building should become a Museum to showcase the early stages of Parliamentary democracy in India.
(The author has been the Secretary General of Rajya Sabha from September 2002 to September 2007.)