DC Debate: Need for construction of a new Parliament building

Parliament House is the symbol and soul of Indian democracy.

More space can be created

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan has sought the creation of a new Parliament building on two counts, namely that the existing structure is stressed and bears problems of overuse; and that the increase in Lok Sabha seats after 2026 - a Constitutional requirement - will necessitate more space which the current building lacks. Both these needs can be addressed within the existing Parliament complex itself.

The first requirement is to decongest Parliament House and shift out all non-core activities. This means it should only contain offices of the Lok Sabha Speaker, Rajya Sabha Chairman, Secretaries-General of both Houses, the table offices and the rooms for the media personnel. All other offices such as those of political parties or ministers and utilities such as the MPs’ canteen can be moved to the enormous Parliament library or to the new building coming up near the Parliament House annexe. This will reduce pressure on the existing building.

Parliament is not in session continuously. The two Houses sit only thrice a year. The number of days when sittings take place or work happens averages between 70 and 90 days a year. In 2015, the total number of sittings was 72. Thus, if Parliament is used exclusively for holding sessions, it can easily handle the load upon it. A 2013 report by the Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee, stated that the Parliament building was structurally sound and suffers only from poor plumbing. This is a problem which can be easily solved with minimal use of public money.

Speaker Mahajan's desire for a state-of-the-art complex equipped with the latest gadgets is well-appreciated. But, there is no reason why the existing building cannot be equipped with such technology. The building is a Heritage Grade-I structure and modifications are restricted. Still, given the need of the times, the guidelines can be relaxed, if need be. Seat increase post 2026 is a reason why a new building has been demanded by the Lok Sabha Secretariat. This too can be easily solved.

The Lok Sabha Chamber can be shifted to the Central Hall. This is a vast hall where the President's Address and joint sittings of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are held occasionally. It is big enough to accommodate the larger number of MPs as and when a seat increase takes place. A new venue can be found elsewhere for joint sittings and the President’s Address which are rare instances.

Parliament House is only 88 years old. It is quite young as compared to the Netherlands' Binnenhof (700 years), Italy's Palazzo Madama (511 years) and United States’ Capitol (216 years). These countries have shown that it is possible to preserve and upgrade heritage monuments to suit modern requirements. Parliament House is the symbol and soul of Indian democracy. To relegate such a monument to disuse is unnecessary and a major injustice. Parliament House is certainly more than capable of continuing with its tradition of nourishing the sons and daughters of India as they script the nation’s destiny through generations.

B.Vinod Kumar, The writer is a senior TRS MP

Fire safety is a serious issue

The present Parliament House was constructed in 1927. There now is a plan for constructing another Parliament building. The idea is not new. Former Speaker Meira Kumar had raised the matter during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha, citing the basic issue of lack of space for the elected members in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The matter has now been taken forward by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.

Problem is, as Ms Mahajan has pointed out, there is no scope for making more changes or alternations in the present layout to accommodate the increasing number of members. The present strength of 545 members in the Lok Sabha is itself a major strain in terms of space. Engineers have stated that any further alternation to the building’s design is not possible. There are limits to effecting changes to the building in terms of its shape and its heritage tag.

The need for space would turn out to be major problem by 2026 as the membership increases based on the new Census data. The House has a well-designed electronic voting system and that must be further extended, for which too more space is required.

If the number increases by 50 or 100 members, where is the space to accommodate them?

Having said this, the present building has a significant historical value. The reference to ‘Indian Parliament‘ or ‘Parliament House’ evokes the image of the magnificent and iconic building in our minds.

This is the building associated most with Indians from the days of the freedom struggle, framing of the Constitution and the umpteen historical decisions that have taken in the course of our history. The name and the image thereof are inseparable. The building is not only magnificent but also has a chord which binds millions of us to it.

Creating that kind of a feeling and acceptance for a new building is going to be a difficult task. The building is being maintained by the Central Public Works Department. It has not reported or certified yet that the building is in a bad condition. Rather, it is generally accepted that the building is structurally fit and strong.

There however is a need to look at the issue of space in a scientific manner and address the problem. A serious cause of concern is of fire safety. The building’s basement has a lot of old wires which pose a major risk and threat.

This is bothering one and all. Some of the wires are very old and if the insulation wears off, there can be the major risk of a fire. Also, the basement is dark and there are constraints for people to work there. I had visited the basement when the lift was not working properly and was shocked to find it so dark and somewhat scary. After that, re-insulation was carried out but in a phased manner. There are still challenges in terms of fire safety. It is important to look into the safety aspect and see if technology can provide us some solution for the same.

P.D.T. Achary, The writer is a former Secretary-General of LS

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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