The Old Secretariat

      Till 1911, Calcutta and not Delhi, was the Capital of India. The Legislative Council used to meet at Government House, Calcutta. Pursuant to the decision to transfer the Capital to Delhi, the Old Secretariat Building was designed by E. Montague Thomas and its construction completed in 1912. The first sitting of the Legislative Council was held at the Chamber at Old Secretariat on 27th January, 1913.

     Delhi was chosen as the Capital because of its old traditions of Hindu-Muslim unity, also due to its strategic and geographical location and as a seat of culture.

     The present site of Legislative Assembly was the site of the Council Chamber which started functioning in Delhi from 1912 onwards. After the construction of Parliament House building (the opening ceremony of which was performed on 18th January, 1927 by Lord Irwin, the then Governor-General of India), the third session of Central Legislative Assembly was held in Parliament House on 19th January, 1927.

     So, from 1912 to 1926 the pride of place was occupied by the Council Chamber of the Central Government at Old Secretariat.

     In this period, there were two stages of the evolution of Central Legislature-first from 1912 to 1920 and second from 1920 onwards. In the first period, the Legislature was called the Imperial Legislative Council and it passed very important legislations, covering all aspects regarding budget, legislation, tariff, reform and working of railways. The most important of all matters discussed was the Rowlett Bill. In this debate, very distinguished Indian Parliamentarians participated. They vehemently protested against the move describing it as unjust, subversive to the principles of liberty and justice and destructive of the elementary rights of individual. Mahatma Gandhi paid a visit to Delhi in the first week of march 1919 and heard the debate on the Bill in the historic Chamber of Old Secretariat. Thus, Old Secretariat is a memorial to the great contribution of Indian Leaders to India’s Freedom Movement.

     In the second stage, the Central Legislature consisted of two Houses – The legislative Assembly and the Council of State. The Legislative Assembly used to meet in the Chamber here at Old Secretariat and the Council of State used to meet in Metcalf House. The Central Legislature passed some very important legislations, matters of constitutional reforms were decided and resolutions condemning the repressive laws, were adopted. The budgets of the Legislative Assembly were debated at length and some of the finest speeches were  made by Indian Leaders who were Members of the Assembly.

    The Legislators who sat in the Chamber at Old Secretariat laid the foundation of India’s future Parliament. It was here that procedures for budgetary discussions, procedures for passing legislation were evolved and standing committees, such as the Standing Finance Committee, were formed. Standing Orders were framed. Speaker of the Legislature (then called President),by his rulings and judgments, created a tradition for future Parliamentary procedures. It was here again that most important national and international issues were discussed and debated and Members were allowed to have full expression of their views. The privileges of Members of the Legislature were recognized and new precedents and conventions were established.

     The following national leaders and veteran freedom fighters left their mark on the history of this building during the period of 1912 –1926 :-

Important Members of Imperial Legislative Council

Important Members of the Central Legislature

 Shri Gopal Krishan Gokhle

Pt.  Moti Lal Nehru

Shri Vithalbhai Patel

Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya

Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya

Shri J.N.Majumdar

Shri Suman Shrivastava

Shri Rangachariar

Shri S.N.Banerji

Shri  Munshi Ishwar Sahai

Shri Vijay Raghavachari

Lala Lajpat Rai

Shri H.M.Mudholkar

Shri Shreenivas Shastri

Shri S.P.Sinha

Shri Tej Bahadur Sapru

Shri Mazrul Haq

Shri Bishamber Nath

Shri Mian-Mohd. Ul Shafi

Shri Jamna Das Dwarka Das

Shri Nawab Syed Mohd.

Shri N.M.Joshi

Shri Sunder Singh Majithia

Shri C.R.Das

Maharaj Vardhaman

Shri Vithal Bhai Patel

Raja  Pratapgarh

Shri Shivaswami Iyer

Shri Amar Nath Dutt

      It is important to mention that the first convocation of Delhi University was also held in the Assembly Hall in Old Secretariat on 26th March, 1923 with 750 invitees. Honorary Degrees were conferred on Lord Reading, Sir Md. Jahan and Sir Hari Singh Gaur, (The first Vice Chancellor of Delhi University.)

     In 1926, the Government of India was pleased to allot the Central portion of Old Secretariat building comprising the Assembly Hall and the adjacent rooms to the Delhi University on a monthly rental of Rs. 350/- and in September, the University took possession of the rooms.

     When New Delhi as the Capital of India came up and as inaugurated in 1931, the Central Hall of Old Secretariat was made use of for the holding academic and cultural events.

     With the coming up of New Delhi as the new Capital of India, the Old Secretariat fell in disuse for a long time. It, however, bubbled into activity again in 1952 when Delhi as Part-C State was given an Assembly. That Assembly was disbanded in 1956. In 1966, Delhi was given a Metropolitan Council who deliberations also used to take place in this very building. Since December, 1993, the Old secretariat continues to be the seat of Delhi Vidhan Sabha.

Architectural Design of Old Secretariat

     The Old Secretariat is considered as a handsome building with a long front line and two lateral structures, the portion facing the Alipur Road curving gracefully in the center like a half moon. The Central doorway communicated with the Central chamber.

     There are two minarets at each end and small towers decorate these corners with placid domes. Four blocks divided between the two sides of the Council Chambers stand inside the square in no way connected with the Chamber. A large Verandah with square archways and round pillars run in front run in front of the office. The cream wash of the structure is very pleasing to eye.

     After the independence, the Old Secretariat building was given face-lifting from time to time and its landscape improved. The building has been the venue of several National and International Conferences such as the Presiding Officer’s Conference, 1986 and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, 1991. Attached to the building is about 10 acres of land which has been converted into garden area including an oval shape park in front of the Assembly Hall. This park also has a high rising fountain which is generally made operational whenever some important functions are held in the lawn, when the Assembly is in session or when some foreign delegation or eminent dignitary visits Old Secretariat.

     A number of multi-coloured bunting mounted on poles, put up and unfurled around the oval shape central lawn, provide a special touch to the majesty of the building.

     In front of the main Gate leading to the Assembly Hall and outside the porch, there exists a bust of Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya, which was inaugurated by the former Lt. Governor of Delhi, Dr. A.N. Jha on 25th December, 1971. Outside the central oval shape park and facing the two minarets are the statues of Vithal Bhai Patel -the first elected Indian Speaker and Mahatma Gandhi-the Father of the Nation. The statue of Vithalbhai Patel mounted on a platform was installed in 1989 and formally unveiled by the then Vice President of India, Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma on 27th September, 1989. Likewise the Statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Dandi March posture, similarly mounted on the platform at the other end was installed in 1992. On the 15th March, 1997, the statue of Ch. Brahm Prakash, who was the first chief Minister of Delhi (1952-56) was installed on the right side of the main entry gate of the building. The oval shape Central Park has a granite plaque on which the names of National Leaders of the Houses of Legislature in Delhi (1912-1916). The Plaque and the nearby Freedom Rock were unveiled by the then Vice President of India on 12th March, 1998.

     Inside the historic Assembly Chamber, there are 6 portraits of eminent National Leaders. These include the portraits of Smt. Indira Gandhi(unveilded by Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, the then Vice President on 20th November, 1987); (ii) Lala Lajpat Rai (unveiled by the then Prime Minister, Sh. Rajiv Gandhi on 17th November, 1990); (iii) Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar (unveiled by the then Chief Minister , Madan Lal Khurana on 14th April, 1994). (iv) Subhash Chandra Bose (unveiled by Home Minister, L.K.Advani on 16th June, 1998. In addition, the portraits of Shri Vithalbhai Patel who used to preside in this very Hall during British days and India’s first Prime Minister, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru also adorned the Chamber.

     The Old Secretariat is the seat of Delhi Assembly as well as of the Delhi Government. The administrative control over the building is exercised by the Speaker. The entry to the building has been regulated with the assistance of security personnel drawn from Delhi Police and Political rallies and dharnas etc. are not permitted inside the assembly precincts. The building bubbles into real activity during thedays of Assembly sessions when MLAs representing nearly 1.30 crore people of Delhi assemble to discuss and deliberate the problems confronting the Delhites.

      Delhi’s Political Set-up : History and Background.

      In retrospect,

      Delhi emerged as the Capital of India with the Muslim conquest of Northern India at the end of the 12th century. Except for some interludes, Delhi has been the capital of succeeding empire and dynasties.

     Six older Delhi’s are lying scattered today at different place as mass of ruins. The Seventh is the present Old Delhi and the Eighth, of course, is New Delhi which was formally inaugurated on 11th February, 1931. The Delhi of today stands on or about the debris of the various Delhi’s built from time to time.

     Till October, 1858, the responsibility of running the Government of the country rested with the East India Company- an organization of British tradesmen. However, on 1st November, 1858 the responsibility of running the Government of the country was transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown. On behalf of the British Crown, The Viceroy of India was entrusted with the responsibility of Governance of the country, including Delhi. Since the East India Company had its headquarters at Calcutta, therefore Calcutta became the seat of the British Government.

     With that, Delhi lost much of its former importance. The Imperial city of the Chauhans, Turko-Afghans and Mughals was not reduced to the status of a District Town, forming a part of Punjab province. The city remained a part of Punjab till Delhi was made a Capital of British India in 1912.

     As Calcutta was the seat of both the provincial Government of Bengal and the Central Government, conflicts of administration authority and jurisdiction often occurred between the Governor of Bengal and the Governor-General of India. When these differences were brought to the notice of the Secretary of State, Marquess of Crewe, in London by the Governor-General of India. When these differences were brought to the notice of the Secretary of State, Marquess of Crewe, in London by the Governor-General, Lord Hardinge in his dispatch dated August 25, 1911, emphasizing the desirability of keeping apart the seat of the Central Government from the jurisdiction of a provincial Government, the Secretary of State for India in his reply put the case for undivided central control over the Capital more succinctly.

     These conflicts of jurisdiction and authority forced the British Government to shift its Capital. Thus, Delhi entered a new phase when, in 1912, the Imperial Capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. The announcement about the shifting of the Capital was made at coronation Durbar near Kingsway camp by King George V.

     Through a Proclamation issued on October 1, 1912, Delhi was made a Chief Commissioner’s Province . Two Tehsils of Delhi Districts respectively, and the Tehsil of Delhi and the area falling under the Mehrauli Police Station were joined to constitute the new Province of Delhi. It covered an area of 528 Sq. miles . Its population at that time was 2,32,837 which has now increased to nearly fifty times to over one crore. Besides that, the population is increasing every year by about 5 lakhs, including two lakhs annual immigrants.

     After a few years, it was considered essential to expand the boundaries of the Capital a little further. Accordingly, through a Proclamation issued on April 12, 1915, a small area of 45 Sq. miles from the United Provinces comprising some 65 villages, and including the Township of Shahdara, were added to the Province of Delhi. Today, the territory of Delhi has an area of 1488 kms.

Post-Independence Delhi

     The political and administrative set up of Delhi has under-one several changes after independence. Prior to independence, Delhi has a number of Municipalities and its administration was being looked after by Chief Commissioner. After independence, Delhi was given the status of Part-C State.

     The Delhi State Legislative Assembly came into being on 7th March, 1952 under the Government of Part-C States Act, 1951. While inaugurating the popular set up at Old Secretariat, the then Home Minister K.N.Katju had hailed the event as “a crowning glory of the annals of historical Capital Delhi.

     The 1952 Assembly consisted of 48 members. There was a provision for a council of Minister to aid and advice the Chief Commissioner in the exercise of his functions in relation to matters in respect of which the State Assembly was given powers to make laws. The first Council of Ministers was headed by Ch. Braham Prakash.

     However, legislative powers granted to Part-C States were limited and the legislative powers of Delhi Assembly had been further curtailed as is evident from the proviso to Section 21 of the Part C States Act, 1951.

     In pursuance of the recommendations of the State Reorganisation Commission (1955), Delhi ceased to be a Part-C State with effect from 1st November, 1956. The Delhi Legislative Assembly and the Council of Ministers were abolished and Delhi became Union Territory under the direct administration of the President. In accordance with another recommendation of the Commission, the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957 was enacted constituting Municipal Corporation for the whole of Delhi with members elected on the basis of adult franchise.

     There was considerable pressure of public opinion for providing a democratic set up and a responsive administration for Delhi. In partial fulfillment of this demand and on the basis of recommendations of Administrative Reforms Commission, the Delhi Administration Act, 196 was enacted. The Act provided for a deliberative body-called Metropolitan Council having recommendatory powers. At the top, there was Lt. Governor or Administrator who was appointed by the President of India under Article 239 of the constitution. There was an Executive Council consisting of one Chief Executive Councilors and three Executive Councilors. The Metropolitan Council was a unicameral Democratic body consisting of member – 56 elected and 5 nominated by the president.

     The Metropolitan Council set-up suffered from many inherent deficiencies. It had no legislative powers and it had only an advisory role in the governance of Delhi. There was, therefore, a continuous demand for a fulfledged State Assembly with Council of Ministers to aid and advice the Lt. Governor. Accordingly, on 24th December, 1987, the Government of India Appointed Sarkaria Committee (late on called Balakrishan Committee) to go into the various issues connected with the administration of union territory of Delhi and to recommend measures for streamlining the administrative set up. The Committee submitted its report on 14th December, 1989.

     The committee went into the matter in great details and considered the issues after holding discussions with various individuals, associations, political parties and other experts. It also considered the arrangements existing in the National Capitals of other countries with a federal set-up and also the reports by earlier committees and commissions. After detailed enquiries and examinations, it recommended that Delhi should continue to be a Union Territory but should be provided with a Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers responsible to such Assembly with appropriate powers to deal with matters of concern to the common man. The Committee also recommended that with a view to ensuring stability and permanence, the arrangements should be incorporated in the constitution to give the National Capital a special status among the Union Territories.


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