Tuesday, August 05, 2008

46 years on, project to build parliament complex still in limbo

Razen Manandhar

Kathmandu, August 4 [2008]
Though the proposal to construct a modern parliament building was made as early as 1962, the same has remained only on paper for 46 years. A full-fledged parliament is likely to be elected within a few years, if all goes well, but the government has no idea so far when the parliament building would be built.When the issue of the venue for Constituent Assembly came, a last minute decision was taken to use the International Convention Centre at Baneshwor as the venue for the Assembly.

Government officials say that the construction of a parliament building would take at least five years in normal situation. If the Constituent Assembly worked smoothly, it will write a new constitution within two and a half years. A maximum of two more years would take for the parliamentary elections to take place. In that scenario, the country would need parliamentary complex constructed within four and a half years.

The Constituent Assembly, which functions also as the Parliament, has not even able to form a new government, forget about other issues including the study of the design of the parliament complex.The need of a new, comfortable and modern parliament building was realised as early as 1962. Engineer at the Department of Urban Development Hari Krishna Upadhyaya was one of the key designers of the model parliament building. The project started normally but the construction of the ambitious project was sidelined after fire engulfed a part of Singha Durbar in 1973, when only a portion of the work on the parliamentary complex was completed. The present Home Ministry building was a part of the then proposed grand parliament complex.

In 1994, four years after the restoration of multi-party democracy and three years after the a991 parliamentary election, the issue of the need of a parliament building emerged again. The parliament then allocated 151 ropanis of land on northeast corner of the Singha Durbar complex for the construction of a parliamentary building. The table work began. The government allocated Rs 5 million for initial studies on the project.

Sources said that even a team was formed to coordinate the construction and it travelled to India, Pakistan, Britain, the US and other countries
for studying the models of parliamentary buildings there. But the efforts and money spent on this failed to give any momentum to the construction of the project.
Afterwards, the government has been allocating small budget for the project but the budget is not even sufficient to run a small office. Neither manpower nor mandate has been given to the team to accomplish the task.

“A lot of people have earned bucks in the name of the construction of the parliament building, but there is little hope that the 46-year-old dream will materialise easily soon,” said a government engineer. He said the the project was being delayed due to the commission game.

The construction of a parliament building and housing complex for the Members of Parliament is also one of the agenda of the interim plan of the National Planning Commission. But the plan lacks details on who will take care of the proposed construction.

“We have been doing our best to complete our duty as soon as possible. But we cannot do it alone. We need approval from the government,” said Mani Prasad Rai, member secretary of the Singha Durbar Reconstruction Committee.

Last year, the dream project for the parliament building got some momentum, thanks to then Speaker Subas Nembang and some other members of the parliament.
The committee prepared a conceptual design and it was presented to select members of the parliament in September 2007. After a series of internal discussions, the Interim Parliament wrote a letter to the committee to make a new design. According to the letter, the Lower House building should have space to accommodate 350 to 400 members and the Upper House building should have space for 150 to 200 members.
The committee prepared another design, which proposes a main dome for the Lower House with 650 seats and a upper house with 250 seats. The main dome could be
used also for the joint session of the parliament.

According to the design, there will be three square structures with domes and four rectangular structures. The main dome will be used as the Lower House and for joint session. The rest two domes will be used as the Upper House and the Parliament Secretariat. Apart from this, there will be a service block, a cafeteria as well as a lot of parking space within the complex.

The design has proposed facilities like library, canteen, office of parliamentary committees, party offices and other small units. It is estimated that the construction would cost around Rs 2.75 billion.

Ram Prasad Belbase, an administrative officer at the committee, said the lack of commitment on the part of the government and the political parties was the cause behind the lingering of the project.

We have made detailed designs of each of the blocks but we cannot move ahead without getting a formal go-ahead from the government.

“We can see, everybody is busy in Constituent Assembly and this project, even as the parliamentary complex is the foundation of the multi-party parliamentary system, is not in the government’s priority,” he said. He also added that the government should revise the earlier designs if needed. He suggested it would be better to have a national level design competition among architectures so that the country’s landmark infrastructure could have the best of the designs.