New Parliament building- Appearance Vs Substance

New Parliament building


Smt Droupadi Murmu
President of India

Respected Rashtrapati Ji,

The new Parliament building, constructed at a great cost to the public, will be inaugurated shortly and perhaps the two Houses will start having their next session at the new venue. The new structure may provide greater comfort to those who function from it. However, will it also bring qualitative changes in the composition and the functioning of the Parliament?

One would wish that those who visualised this physical shift of the Parliament from one building to another had also given equal, if not greater, weightage to substantive changes in the composition of the Parliament to make it more representative of the gender mix of the population, greater opportunity to those who belong to lower income groups, those more disadvantaged in the society and those with a greater commitment to social cohesion.

I earnestly hope that those who take pride in shifting the Parliament to the new building will recall what Dr B R Ambedkar said on November 25, 1949, while presenting the draft Constitution to the Constituent Assembly,

On the social plane, we have in India a society based on the principle of graded inequality which means elevation for some and degradation for others. On the economic plane, we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in

abject poverty….(what) we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless

there lies at the base of it social democracy….in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country ? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost for ever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against”

According to an analysis carried out by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) on the basis of the candidates’ sworn election affidavits, (, the trends over elections to successive terms of the Lok Sabha are not at all in tune with Dr Ambedkar’s vision.

For example, though the Census figures indicate a male-female ratio of 50:50, the proportion of women in the present Lok Sabha stands only at 14%, which suggests an inherent gender bias in the composition of the Lok Sabha. Should not the Parliament feel concerned about it?

Coming to the financial status of those elected to the Lok Sabha, which is the House of the People, the proportion of crorepatis elected in 2019 is 88%, compared to 82% in the previous Lok Sabha. The average asset size for those elected in 2019 is Rs 20.93 Crores, beyond the reach of the majority of the people. Considering the manner in which the election expenses in the country have skyrocketed, persons with lesser incomes and assets, but willing to serve the people, are unable to contest elections. Should this situation be allowed to continue?

The political parties continue to give tickets to candidates, irrespective of their antecedents, leaving little choice to voters. For example, 43% of the members in the present Lok Sabha have declared that there are criminal cases filed against them, compared to 34% for the previous Lok Sabha. Out of this, the proportion of those against whom there are serious criminal cases is 29% for the present Lok Sabha, compared to 21% for the previous Lok Sabha. This should cause serious concern to anyone committed to a Parliamentary democracy based on Constitutional values. Will political parties, on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Parliament building, resolve to move away from this distressing situation?

I hope that those that attend the inaugural function for the new building recall Dr Ambedkar and his vision and the fact that, more than brick and mortar, the building needs to represent a paradigm change in the representative character of the Parliament and its values.

While India became independent from colonial rule more than seven decades ago, the recent legislative changes that the Centre introduced brought opacity in the funding of political parties and opened the floodgates to donations from domestic and foreign corporate sources, posing a new threat to the integrity of the electoral process and a potential danger to the democratic values of the nation. Corporate funding of political parties involving quid pro quos that run counter to the public interest tends to diminish the legitimate role of individual voters and erode the strength of our democracy. That such far-reaching legislative changes should get hurriedly pushed through, often through the medium of Finance Bills, with inadequate discussion and debate in the Parliament, must cause concern to each and every member of the Parliament.

The Constitution has clearly demarcated the respective roles of the Union and the States, based on mutual respect and cooperative functioning. In a country like ours with diverse cultures and needs, it is important that the spirit of federalism is upheld and the Centre and the States work in harmony. Of late, the Centre seems to have taken initiatives that run counter to this. Will the Parliament in the new building strive to reverse such a trend in order to uphold and restore the federal relationship between the Centre and the States?

For example, the Finance Commission (FC), an authority set up under the Constitution, is entrusted with the responsibility of apportioning tax resources between the Centre and the States under Articles 270, 275 and 280 on an equitable basis, through a consultative process, keeping in view their respective revenue-expenditure obligations. Article 282, by way of exception, empowers the Centre to make transfers to the States outside the Commission’s purview, for extending help to States in areas in which they need it. Instead of ensuring that the divisible pool of resources at the disposal of the Finance Commission is not disturbed and its role not diminished, the successive governments have progressively resorted to diverting resources from the divisible pool to transfers under Article 282, which in effect shrinks the Commission’s role, erodes the political space of the States and ignores the State-specific needs and priorities. This trend has become particularly conspicuous since 2014. The proportion of tax resources transferred by the Centre to the States on the basis of the Finance Commission’s recommendations has sharply declined from 59.9% in 2014-15 to 16.7% in 2023-24, with a corresponding steep increase in the non-FC proportion of funds transferred to the States under Article 282 of the Constitution.  This is a regressive trend that needs to be reversed in order to promote the spirit of federalism that respects India’s diversity. Should not the Parliament discuss the ways and means of restoring the role of the Finance Commission? Does the hurried manner in which the Union Budgets are often discussed afford enough opportunity for the members to consider and debate such important issues?

In recent times, the Centre has hurriedly pushed through legislative changes to the detriment of the interests of the tribal communities, such as amendments proposed in the case of the Forest (Conservation) Act and the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, without seeking the considered views of the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes (NCST), as required in the Constitution. The Centre introduced those amendments in the guise of “promoting ease of business”, a euphemism to promote corporate interests, ignoring the far-reaching social costs involved. Will the Parliament functioning in the new building ensure that the political executive accords the importance that is due to Constitutional authorities such as the NCST and safeguard the interests of the tribal communities?

The Constitution provides a three-tier democratic structure comprising elected representatives in the Parliament, at the State level and at the village level. Laws enacted by the Parliament and the actions of the political executive at the Centre should strengthen the democratic systems at the State and village levels, not weaken them, for the nation as a whole to progress in a balanced manner.

In the past, the previous governments did enact laws such as PESA and Forest Rights Act, which empowered the tribal Gram Sabhas in areas notified under the Fifth Schedule, whereas, of late, legislative initiatives taken by the Centre and the executive decisions implemented unilaterally have tended to erode the authority of the tribal Gram Sabhas. The Parliament should perhaps give serious thought to this and act in a manner that strengthens democracy as a whole, at all levels.

These are far more important concerns that should engage the attention of all those involved in the functioning of our Parliamentary democracy than the Parliament being housed in a brand new building with greater comfort and more modern amenities. The public cost at which the new building has been constructed can be justified only if the new building reminds those that inaugurate the building and those that occupy it, of the greater responsibilities that the Constitution expects from the institution of the Parliament. To that extent, those that take pride in the new building should know that they are under an obligation to justify the expenditure to the people of India.

As the Constitutional head of the nation, Madam Rashtrapatiji, may I appeal to you to highlight these concerns, when you address the Parliament next?


E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to the Government of India

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