New Parliament complex may seat 1,350 members
A new Lok Sabha central hall big enough to house 900 Members of Parliament (MPs), and flexible enough to house up to 1,350 MPs for a joint Parliament session will be the centrepiece of the Central Vista redevelopment plan that has a deadline of 2024.
The new Parliament complex, which has an earlier deadline, 2022, will be among the first plans to be finalised and tendered out, perhaps in the first half of this year itself. The current design of an evolving plan envisages a triangular complex, with a tricoloured beam lighting up the sky overhead. And at a more mundane level, the MPs will sit comfortably in broad two-seater benches, accessible from either side so that no one will have to squeeze through — and which can, when a joint session is held, accommodate three.
The redevelopment will also see North and South Block, which house ministries, becoming museums; the creation of a central secretariat, and a redesigned Rajpath.
According to presentations made by the Ahmedabad-based HCP Design, the new triangular Parliament building will come up next to the existing complex, the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts will be relocated with some of the new government buildings coming up where it is located, and the National Archives will be remodelled. The Prime Minister’s residence will be shifted behind the existing South Block complex while the residence of the Vice President will move behind North Block.
First off the blocks will be the new Parliament complex and the government offices at IGNCA. The former will come up on 13 acres within the existing Parliament complex. And it will be much bigger than the current one, where the Lok Sabha hall simply can’t fit any more MPs. And there may soon be a need to.
Barring a constitutional amendment, India will revisit a decision on the size of the Lok Sabha in 2026. In an article in Hindustan Times in March 2019, political scientists Milan Vaishnav and Jamie Hintson projected that the Lok Sabha may need to have 848 members by 2026 to keep the spirit of proportional representation. Accordingly, the new complex is aimed to house 900 MPs. In December 2019, former President Pranab Mukherjee called for almost doubling the strength of the Lok Sabha to 1,000 lawmakers from the current 545.
According to Bimal Patel, the architect in charge of the redesign of Central Vista, the plan is to also create a separate lounge. Currently, the Central Hall functions as one, although it is not designed for the purpose. There may even be office space for MPs.
The current plan, according to Patel, “the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and, an open-to-sky courtyard around which there would be a lounge and in the middle there will be a foyer.” The offices will be along the periphery of the building.”
Patel and his team studied seating arrangements in Parliaments of several countries including Cuba, Egypt, Singapore, and Germany. MPs have often complained of lack of space, especially during joint sessions.
There’s no space to be had in the current Lok Sabha. There are even seats “behind columns”, Patel said. A parliamentarian gets around 40cm by 50 cm of space to sit in the house now. This will increase to 60 by 60 under the new arrangement.
More importantly, Patel, pointed out, everyone gets a desk. “Currently, the desks are only for the first two rows. You can put your iPads or files on them.” And, of course, with two to a bench, “you really never have to go in front of anybody to sit down. That really is the most comfortable way to manage it,” he added. For joint sessions the desks will accommodate three MPs instead of two.
The shape of the present circular building designed by architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in 1912-13, was based on the Chausath Yogini temple, one of the oldest heritage sites in India.
Explaining the reason behind choosing a triangular structure for the new complex, Patel said,“One reason is functional: it’s triangular plot. Triangles are also very important in some sense. They are celebrated in all sacred geometries...; Why a spire atop the new Parliament? Think of churches, think of temples etc. In a secular democracy a sacred building is the Parliament and so famously referred to as the temple of democracy by the Prime Minister.”
Interestingly, the new design envisages windows of various sizes in Central Hall.
“We are making windows that will be of unequal size inside the hall. Why we are doing that? This reflects the diversity of India, everything is different here and hence not a single window should be the same in this room,” Patel said.
“Technology-wise we are looking at visual and acoustic factors. Acoustic is really important. Presently the acoustic tiles were put in afterwards. That time the rudimentary concept was to avoid echoing. Actually a sophisticated acoustic design is about the quality of sound you produce. That is best understood by acoustic engineers...we have a very good company which is full of physicists doing this,” Patel explained. There will also be in-built translation systems, he added.
The big question is the fate of the old Parliament building. Patel said the plan is still evolving. It was earlier planned to be converted in to a museum. The current thinking is to use it on some occasions, he added, pointing out that the building, while iconic, is “complex”, and had functionality added to it instead of being designed with that functionality in mind. “People cherish the way things are done, but we discover that many of them are only responses to a building that was never meant to be Parliament but nonetheless became....”
In August 2019, the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha chairman urged the government to expand and modernise the colonial-era Parliament building.
Both the Chairs pointed out that the Parliament building was 92 years old and needed urgent repairs.
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