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"Today is a historic day. Today is a day that in a way is like the foundation stone of our India. If the current Parliament building is one that gave direction to an Independent India since 1947, then the new Parliament will prove to be a testament to a new and atma-nirbhar Bharat," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
Reminiscing about the old parliament building, PM Modi said, "It was an emotional day for me when I had the opportunity to be a part of this temple of democracy. I remember bowing down upon my first visit". The current parliament building, built a century ago, has "served in shaping India", he said, adding, "It has undergone several renovations... but it has reached its capacity. It is now seeking rest".
Priests from the Sringeri Math Karnataka performed the rituals for the "bhoomi pujan" at the building site.Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh also offered prayers during the ceremony, which was followed by a "Sarva dharma prarthana" or inter-faith prayer.
Those attending the ceremony included Union Ministers, MPs, foreign envoys and religious leaders. Industrialist Ratan Tata, whose Tata Projects has the contract for the new parliament building, was also present.
The Congress launched an attack on PM Modi as the groundbreaking ceremony started. "Mr. Modi, History will also record that when the Annadata was fighting for their rights for 16 days on the streets, you were building a palace for yourself in the name of Central Vista! In democracy, power is not a means to fulfill whims, it is a medium for public service and public welfare," Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted.
The new parliament building became necessary as the existing British-era structure was found lacking when it came to modern info-tech facilities and offices for MPs. It has also reached its capacity in terms of seating arrangements in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha halls, many MPs have pointed out.
The new building will seat 888 members in the Lok Sabha Chamber with an option to increase to 1,224 Members during Joint Sessions. The Rajya Sabha chamber will have a seating capacity for 384 members -- an expanded capacity in view of future requirements.
Each Member of Parliament will be provided with a 40 sq m office space in the redeveloped Shram Shakti Bhawan, which will be completed by 2024. The new building will also showcase the country's glorious heritage, with contributions from artisans and sculptors from across the country.
The Central Vista Plan has been challenged in the Supreme Court, which pulled up the government last week for "pushing ahead aggressively" with the project even before a decision was taken on the petition challenging the project. "You can lay the foundation stone, you can carry on paperwork but no construction or demolition, no cutting down any trees," the court had said.
The Central Vista project will be aligned along Rajpath - the 3-km road lined with parks on both sides that stretches from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate. At the end of it, on the banks of Yamuna, the Nav Bharat Udyan will come up. The 20-acre park will have an iconic structure and infotainment facilities that will showcase the country's rich historical and cultural heritage and scientific achievements.