Sumitra Mahajan, like her predecessors, has fallen prey to the temptation to upgrade the Parliament House complex courtesy new construction. Shivraj Patil had set a typically grandiose example with the library facility, and now the call is for a new “main building”. Without entering into the realm of certain folk drooling over prospects for kickbacks, the wisdom of the move is questionable. For starters: if indeed the number of members is increased is it necessary for them to have specifically allotted seats with individual consoles to operate the generally malfunctioning voting system that requires the Chair to use the prefix “subject to correction” before announcing the tally in a “division”? Since it is only on very rare occasions – few can recall even one – when the House was 100 per cent full, a sharing of benches is a better option, the voting mechanism can be re-worked. Have members of the House of Commons not stood, occasionally even squatted, in the aisles? And even in the Lok Sabha, as presently configured, many members do not like to speak from their allotted seats, particularly the backbenchers who are aware of the limited “reach” of the TV camera. What prevents tweaking of the arrangements, setting up mini-podiums, below and on either side of the Speaker&’s rostrum from which the member “given the floor” addresses the House. That might make for improved “order”. There would be several other possibilities – why even think of a new chamber. Tradition and history create an aura of sanctity not easy to replicate.
Undoubtedly there is need to dispense with a whole range of offices that provide “support services” and re-locate them in a new building, over an expansive parking lot. A modern air-conditioning plant would “free up” considerable space, political parties could be provided office-accommodation in the new building, directed to hold their daily press briefings there. And true security does not require parading cops in strength. There are endless possibilities: this preference to throw the baby out with the bathwater is not acceptable. At least not to the taxpayer who is already querying the expenditure on an “institution” that only nominally serves the people and their interests. True the 88 year-old structure is in dire need of a “re-fit”: a temporary alternative (Vigyan Bhawan?) could be utilised The pathetic maintenance by the CPWD is largely responsible for what the Speaker terms “distress”, should the task be handed over to the private sector? There is no dearth of architectural and engineering skill available that would deem it a privilege and challenge to redeem the celebrated, unique, circular colonnaded citadel of democracy. Sadly, no such quality-choices are available to the voter to “send” to Sansad Sadan.