Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday laid the foundation stone for the new Parliament building. In a speech after the ceremony, Modi said that the building will be a landmark of India’s democratic tradition.

The prime minister also highlighted the importance of the Parliament in India’s history. “The first session of Parliament of independent India was held in this very building,” Modi said, referring to the old building. “Baba Saheb Ambedkar and others drafted our Constitution in the Central Hall.”

He said that the new building was the need of the hour as it would be equipped with new technology and have more space for smooth functioning of Parliament and various ministries. “It would be a matter of great pride for the country to have a new Parliament building in 2022, the 75th year of our Independence,” the prime minister said.

Asserting that Indian democratic traditions predate the Magna Carta, a 13th century document many scholars consider as the framework for a modern republic, the prime minister said that the day is not far when the world would term India the “mother of democracy” if Indians extol the country’s democratic history with confidence.

He added that the building was an example of co-existence of the new with the old. “If the old Parliament building gave direction to India after independence, the new building would be a witness to the making of an ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ [self-reliant India],” Modi said.

He noted that India’s democracy was a system developed through centuries of experience. Modi added that usually, when democracy is discussed elsewhere, it is about election procedures, governance and administration, but in India, it was a value and a way of life.

Modi asserted that democracy in India has always been a means of resolving differences along with governance. “Different views and different perspectives empower a vibrant democracy,” he noted.

Modi urged everyone to take the pledge that there would be no greater interest for them than national interest and that their concern for the country would be more than their personal concerns.

He said many new things were being incorporated in the new Parliament House, which will increase the efficiency of MPs, and modern methods would be incorporated in the work culture.

Earlier during the day, Modi performed the ground-breaking ceremony for the building. Priests from the Sringeri Math Karnataka did the rituals for the “bhoomi pujan” at the new Parliament building site, according to PTI.

The event that was attended by leaders from various political parties, cabinet ministers and ambassadors of different countries. Ratan Tata, whose Tata Projects Limited won the bid to construct the new Parliament building in September, was also present.

The new building will have an area of 64,500 square metres. It will also have a grand Constitution Hall to showcase India’s democratic heritage, a lounge for members of Parliament, a library, multiple committee rooms, dining areas and ample parking space.

In the new building, the Lok Sabha chamber will have a seating capacity for 888 members, while the Rajya Sabha will have 384 seats for members. The Lok Sabha chamber will have an option to increase its sitting capacity to 1,224 members during joint sessions. This has been done keeping in mind the future increase in the number of members for the two houses.

However, work for the construction cannot begin immediately after the ceremony as the government on Monday assured the Supreme Court that it would not carry out any construction, demolition or felling of trees in the Central Vista area for now. This came after the top court had expressed displeasure at the government “aggressively” continuing with the redevelopment project while petitions challenging the project were yet to be decided.

Opposition parties and former civil servants are among those who have severely criticised the Narendra Modi government for not cutting down on “luxuries” like the Central Vista project amid the coronavirus crisis. The Rs 20,000-crore venture aims to build a new Parliament and other central government offices in Lutyens’ Delhi. The government has justified its decision to build a new Parliament building, saying that the current one was “showing signs of distress and over-use”.

Meanwhile, petitioners have opposed the proposed change in land usage of the Central Vista, the iconic boulevard of approximately 3.5 km from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate, and further to the National Stadium. They have argued that it is a symbol of India’s historic past, its nationhood, its vibrant democracy.