How was the country’s first parliament? This is how the journey from a room to a luxurious building

The British had no intention of building a separate building for the Parliament while planning the construction of the new capital, Delhi.

Chakshu Roy

Legislative institutions have a long history in India. Under a charter granted by the British government in 1601, the officers of the East India Company had the power to make laws. A council of senior officers of the Company carried on the administration of the Corporation at Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. These councils were independent and their meeting place was a room in the respective cities, called the Council Chamber.

The place of meetings of this legislative body was located in the Council Chamber on the first floor of Government House in Calcutta. The Indian Penal Code of 1860, which defines crimes and punishments in the country, was discussed and passed in this Council Chamber. When the government moved to the hill town in the summer, the British built another council chamber at the Viceregal Niwas in Shimla for meetings of the Legislative Council. In 1911, King George V announced that the capital of British India would be transferred to Delhi and laid the foundation stone of a new capital city. The move added a Legislative Council chamber to the Government Secretariat building in Old Delhi.

During this, the question was also raised whether the new capital city would have a separate building for the meetings of the Parliament. Till then the Legislative Council was a unicameral body, and its membership was increased to 60 in 1909. Its meetings were held in large council chambers in Calcutta, Simla and Delhi.

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The British had no intention of building a separate building for the Parliament while planning the construction of the new capital, Delhi. In 1912 an MP in the House of Commons questioned the move. In his reply, Under-Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu said that the Legislative Council would meet in a hall in a separate wing of the Governor-General’s official residence. However Montagu favored a different building. Jane Ridley, the great-granddaughter of the British architect Edwin Lutyens, wrote in her biography that both Lutyens and Montagu urged the first Governor-General of India, Lord Hardinge, for a separate building for the Legislative Council. Harding refused, saying, “No I rule India, as Governor General with my Council, so it must be in my house.”

Subsequently, in 1913, when Lutyens and Herbert Baker signed on to be the architects of the new capital, Delhi, their brief contained only ‘Government House (the present Rashtrapati Bhavan) and the design of the two principal blocks (North and South Block) of the Rashtrapati Bhavan’. Included. , As part of Government House he was to design a Legislative Council chamber, a library and writing room, a public gallery and committee rooms.

Six years later constitutional reforms suggested by Montagu (and Lord Chelmsford, the governor-general who succeeded Harding) led to the passage of the Government of India Act 1919. The law envisaged a 60-member Council of State and a bicameral legislature and an elected Legislative Assembly with a strength of 140 members.

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Another suggestion was to renovate an existing building for the legislature. The administration accepted this proposal and constructed a large assembly hall in the Secretariat building in Delhi and the Legislative Council held its meetings in the nearby Metcalfe House. These were temporary arrangements and Herbert Baker was commissioned to design the new Council House. The new building was to accommodate three legislative chambers, the Assembly, the Council and a Council of Princes (Narendra Mandal), which had been established as a royal proclamation following the Act of 1919.

The committee responsible for building Delhi as the capital city decided that the new building would be located at the base of Raisina Hill, below the North Block. The plot of land for the new Council House was in the shape of a triangle. Herbert Baker’s design featured three legislative chambers as three wings of the building connected by a central dome. By this time a dispute over the gradient of the road leading to Government House had strained relations between Lutyens and Baker. For this reason, when Baker presented his triangular design for the Legislative Council Building to the Committee in 1920, Lutyens strongly opposed it.

Eventually Lutyens persuaded the committee to completely redesign the building from a triangular to a circular one. An ecstatic Lutyens wrote, “I have got the building I want and the size I want.” The final design had three semi-circular chambers for the library and a large central hall.

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While the Council House was being built in Delhi, a small building was also being built in Shimla, which was the summer capital. This was for the Legislative Assembly sessions held in the city during the summer months. The building was inaugurated in 1925 and now houses the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly.

The much larger circular building in Delhi was inaugurated in 1927 by the Governor-General Lord Irwin, who read a message from King George V. The message said, “The new capital that has arisen establishes new institutions and a new life. It aspires to remain worthy of a great nation and that wisdom and justice may find their abode in this Council House.” Baker presented Irwin with a golden key to open the building’s door at the inauguration. With this, the Legislative Assembly started functioning from this building on the very next day of inauguration.

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