Nation battles Coronavirus, PM Modi still goes ahead with Parliament renovation plans

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Parliament building is one of the most recognisable sites in India. The long and grassy avenue sweeps down from the India Gate war memorial to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, or president’s residence, with the circular Parliament House building in between. It was designed by British architects Lutyens and Herbert Baker following the 1911 decision to move the capital of the British Raj from Calcutta to Delhi.

The geometric design, with wide avenues and sprawling lawns, was modelled on European capitals such as Paris but was also infused with Indian influences from the architecture of Hindu temples to the red-stoned grandeur of Mughal forts. The vista remains the only area in India designated grade 1 heritage status.

Now, under a $3bn development plan, over the next four years an entirely new triangular parliament building will be erected next to the current heritage Parliament House, which was built in 1929, as well as a new residence for the prime minister. It will repurpose the north and south blocks into a national museum, demolish some newer ministry buildings and erect a vast new secretariat along either side of the vista, which will house all the government ministries currently scattered across Delhi. It will be the most significant transformation of the physical structures of government in India since independence; and the question remains, is it needed at all?

The government and HCP Design, the architecture firm overseeing the project, say its necessity is not up for dispute. “From the day after independence, parliament was too small, because the existing building was the council house for the British raj,” said Bobby Desai, director of design at HCP. “We have limped along since then. It was certainly never designed to be a parliament building for a country of 1.4 billion people.”

Currently 550 representatives sit in the parliament, but is still based on the 1971 census when India’s population was a just 580 million, meaning a single elected official now looks after an average of 2.5 million people. This will be up for review after 2026 and there are estimates it could raise the number of parliamentarians to over 900, thus requiring more seats.

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