New Parliament symbol of self-reliance, says PM Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for a new Parliament House on Thursday, describing the event as a milestone in India’s democratic history and asserting that the building will become the symbol of a 21st century nation and Aatmanirbhar Bharat, or self-reliant India.
At an event in central Delhi attended by senior ministers, foreign envoys and top industrialists, Modi performed the groundbreaking ceremony for the two-storied building amid vedic chants by 12 priests and an interfaith prayer, 93 years after the iconic circular Parliament House was completed.
Addressing a gathering afterwards, Modi hoped India would be soon recognised as the “mother democracy” and asserted that Indian democratic traditions predate the Magna Carta, a 13th century English royal charter often considered the forerunner of modern Constitutions.
“It is a very historic day. Today is a milestone in India’s democratic history... We, the people of India, will together build this new building of Parliament,” Modi said, adding that the building will be an inspiration when India celebrates 75 years of independence in 2022, the proposed date of completion of construction.
The PM expressed confidence for the resurgence of a new, self-reliant India that would not waste “flood of opportunities” and time. Connecting the old and the proposed building, he said, “If the old Parliament House gave direction to post-Independence India, the new building would fulfil the aspirations of India in the 21st century.”
The 64,500 square metre building, the showpiece of the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista project, is proposed to be constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 971 crore. The earthquake resistant structure would involve 2,000 workers directly and another 9,000 indirectly.
“I can never forget the moment in my life when I had the opportunity to come to Parliament House for the first time in 2014 as an MP. Before stepping in, I bowed and saluted this temple of democracy,” Modi said.
Modi extolled the importance of the current Parliament, which will continue to function in an ancillary capacity.
“The first government of an independent India was formed here and the first sitting of Parliament took place here, our Constitution was drafted here, our democracy was re-established here. Babasaheb Ambedkar and others, after deep deliberations in the Central Hall, gave us a Constitution,” the Prime Minister said.
“When India got independence, there was a lot of apprehension whether democracy can survive in India given its poverty social condition, literary levels. Predictions were made that democracy would fail in India. Today, we can say with pride that those apprehensions have been proved wrong.”
The new building is to have a capacity to house over 1,200 MPs, 55% additional seating capacity from than the current strength.
A new office complex for all parliamentarians will also replace the Shram Shakti Bhavan and Transport Bhavan, right next to Parliament. It will also have a grand Constitution Hall to showcase India’s democratic heritage, a lounge for members of Parliament, a library, multiple committee rooms, dining areas and ample parking space.
To be sure, the Supreme Court reserved its judgment in November on a batch of petitions challenging the Central Vista project, which also included 11 buildings for 51 central ministries, an underground Metro station, chambers for MPs, the Prime Minister’s office and residence, and even an arboretum of rare plants behind the Mughal Gardens.
On Monday, the apex court directed the Centre to immediately stop all construction and ancillary activities in the Central Vista area but allowed the groundbreaking ceremony to go ahead.
The Opposition criticised the ceremony at a time when tens of thousands of farmers are protesting against the Centre’s agricultural laws outside the Capital. “The foundation for a new Parliament building was laid on the ruins of a liberal democracy,” said former finance minister P Chidambaram. The Congress boycotted the event.
At the event, Modi invoked Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, to underline the importance of dialogue and discussion. “Debate and discussion must can occur both inside and outside Parliament. Service to the nation must also continue but they must reflect national service and dedication towards national interest,” he said.
After the ceremony, messages from President Ram Nath Kovind and vice president Venkaiah Naidu were read out by Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh.
“In order to enable the members to realise their constitutional obligations in the near future, the extant Parliament House required restructuring which was not desirable due to the heritage status of the building. As such, a new Parliament Building was required,” said Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, the custodian of the parliament estate.
Birla also pointed out that MPs of both Houses had repeatedly expressed the desire for a modern and hi-tech Parliament Building. Businessman Ratan Tata, whose firm has got the contract to construct the new building, was also in attendance.
The PM emphasised on the importance of different views and perspectives to empower a vibrant democracy. “Democracy in India has always paved way for resolving differences apart from providing governance…there is always room for differences so long as it is not entirely disconnected from the process.”
The Prime Minister described how MPs would get additional facilities in the new building but also added that the representatives of the people would be accountable to the public and the Constitution.
“Their dedication, their service, conduct, thought and behaviour will become the life of this temple. Their efforts towards the unity and integrity of India will become the energy that gives life to this temple,” Modi said.