New Delhi: The 88-year-old Parliament House (or Sansad Bhavan in Hindi) may well move to a new building, if a proposal by Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan on Sunday is implemented.

But first, a brief history of Parliament House, as we know it. According to the Parliament’s website, “The foundation stone of parliament house was laid on 12th February, 1921 by HRH The Duke of Connaught. The construction of the building took six years and the opening ceremony was performed on the 18th January, 1927 by the then Governor-General of India, Lord Irwin. The cost of construction was 83 lakh." Parliament House, originally known as the House of Parliament, was designed by British architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker around 1912-13.

The building is “a massive circular edifice, 560 feet (170.69 meters) in diameter. Its circumference is one-third of a mile (536.33 meters) and it covers an area of nearly six acres (24281.16 square metres). The open verandah on the first floor is fringed with a colonnade of 144 creamy sandstone columns—each 27 feet (8.23 metres) high. The building has twelve gates among which Gate No. 1 on the Sansad Marg is the main gate."

New building proposals

In her letter to the Urban Development ministry, Mahajan wrote, “On account of ageing of the Parliament House building and expansion in activities, staff etc, the building has shown signs of distress and over utilization...Under the circumstances, there is an imperative need for the construction of a new state-of-art Parliament building." Besides, with the Parliament House being declared a “Heritage Grade-I" structure, “there are several limitations on the structural repairs, additions, alterations and modifications".

A Press Trust of India report said Mahajan suggested two options—one, the new building can be constructed within the existing Parliament complex, which “would require relocation of certain facilities and services". The second option would see the new Parliament building come up on the other side of Rajpath, which is a “suitably large area and would enable a free design of a new Parliament House building".

This is not the first time that such a proposal has come up. In July 2012, then Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar approved the setting up of a “high-powered committee to suggest an alternative complex". Subsequently, The Hindu reported that a report prepared by the Union Urban Development ministry, which was submitted to the Lok Sabha Secretariat, had recommended “that a new structure can be built across the Vijay Path as was envisaged by Sir Edward (sic) Lutyens himself".

The report in The Hindu quoted an unnamed official as saying, “While planning the buildings around Raisina Hill, Lutyens had thought of a circular building, a mirror image of Parliament House on the Southern Side of the Vijay Chowk. The plot that was marked for this construction is currently being used as temporary barracks. This land can be used for building a new House that will address the current space and safety concerns."

The report added, “The ministry has suggested that the new building can be made to resemble the existing House on the outside, but the interiors can be designed to accommodate the needs of the MPs. Both buildings can be connected through a tunnel passing right under Vijay Chowk. The second option, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has been informed, is using the space adjacent to Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Road where government properties stand."

Similarly, “about a year ago, a suggestion to build a new Parliament was reportedly made at a meeting of budget committee of parliament including deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha M. Thambidurai, public accounts committee chairman K.V. Thomas and estimates committee chairman Murli Manohar Joshi. Thomas said that the existing building was ‘old’ and a new Parliament building should be thought of as provision needed to be made for the next 100 years," said the PTI report

Why a new building?

Besides age, the fundamental case for a new Parliament building, as Mahajan said, arises from the fact that the number of seats in the Lok Sabha is likely to go up after 2026.

This is in accordance with the “provisions of the explanation to clause (3) Article 81 of the Constitution". The clause “determines representation on the basis of population determined by the last census", which in this case will be the 2021 census.