Assembly House seat of Political change
The history of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly dates back to January 1862 when a 12-member Legislative Council for Bengal was set up by the Governor-General of India under the Indian Councils Act of 1861, comprising the Lt. Governor of Bengal and some nominated members. This important Constitutional development came in the wake of the revolt of 1857. The strength of the Council was gradually increased by subsequent Acts. Following the participation of Indians in World War I, the Montague-Chelmsford reforms paved the way for the formation of the Bengal Legislative Council constituted under the Act of 1919. The council was formally inaugurated on February 1, 1921, by His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught.
Before the construction of the Assembly House, the sittings of the Legislative Council for Bengal was held at Belvedere, Calcutta, the residential place of the then Lieutenant Governor of Bengal till 1920. Later, the Bengal Legislative Council sat at Town Hall between February 1, 1921 and February 8, 1931, till the new building was ready.
A few years later, under the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935, two Chambers of the Bengal Legislature - the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly, were created. With Independence, the province was partitioned into West Bengal and East Pakistan. The West Bengal Legislative Assembly was constituted with 90 members representing the constituencies that fell within the area of West Bengal and two nominated members from the Anglo-Indian community. The Bengal Legislative Council stood abolished. The Legislative Assembly met for the first time after Independence on November 21, 1947.
The Constitution of India had provided for a bicameral Legislature for West Bengal. But the West Bengal Legislative Council was abolished in 1969. At present, the Legislative Assembly consists of 295 members including one nominated from the Anglo-Indian community. Its term is five years, unless dissolved earlier.
The foundation stone of the present Assembly House was laid on July 9, 1928, by Sir Francis Stanley Jackson, the then Governor of Bengal. Thereafter, the construction of the building started on a plot measuring 33 bighas and was completed within two years and seven months. Mr J Greaves was chosen as the chief architect of this magnificent building and the Martin and Company, Calcutta, was entrusted with the construction work.
The architecture of the building shows a mixture of oriental and occidental influences including the central dome and resembles the English alphabet 'H'. Its magnificence is in keeping with its more illustrious neighbours such as the Raj Bhavan and the Writers' Buildings. The Chamber, measuring 4300 square feet, is circular in shape. This is where the actual sitting of the House takes place. It holds a separate enclosure for the Speaker and there are galleries to accommodate officials and visitors. Inside, the insignia displayed shows a sailing ship surmounted by a Bengal tiger. The National emblem was added to the insignia following independence. There is an antique chandelier, beautiful to behold, hanging inside.
There is a long passage encircling the Chamber and it leads to the various office-chambers and lobby where the members sit when the Assembly is not in session. The lobby has a rich collection of oil paintings and portraits of national leaders, freedom fighters, former chief ministers, Speakers and other eminent persons, many of whom had strode in this Chamber as key members taking part in debates. The Chamber has witnessed historical debates by great orators of Bengal like Fazlul Haq, Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, Sarat Chandra Bose, Tulsicharan Goswami, Bidhan Chandra Roy, Kiran Shankar Roy, Bankim Mukherjee, Nalini Ranjan Sarkar, Nirmal Chunder Chunder, H Suhrawardy, Haripada Bharati, Hiren Mukhopadhyay, Jyoti Basu and Siddhartha Shankar Roy.
There are separate chambers for the Speaker, Chief Minister, Ministers, Leader of the Opposition and two Committee Rooms christened after the names of two great Speakers of the past - Sir Azizul Haque, the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and Shri Bijoy Kumar Banerjee. The erstwhile Council Chamber, now used for committee meetings and seminars has also been christened after the name of Syed Nausher Ali, another great Speaker of the past.
There are three administrative buildings - North Annexe Building, South Annexe Building and Golden Jubilee Building. The rich collection of the Legislature Library has now been shifted to the Golden Jubilee Building. The Post Office, bank, railway reservation counter, medical dispensary, canteen are also situated inside the Assembly premises. The foundation stone of a new Millennium Building which can accommodate 600 members was laid by Jyoti Basu, former Chief Minister of West Bengal in 2001.
The system of having a Mace in West Bengal Legislature owes its origin to the practice prevailing in the British House of Commons. Modelled on the British Mace, it was first introduced in the Bengal Legislative Council during the British regime in 1934. The 'Crown' was embossed at the top but has since been replaced by the national emblem. The Mace is carried by the Marshal who marches ahead in a procession in front of the Speaker before the House starts its business and is eventually placed on a table on an ornamental pillow just before the Speaker's chair in the House. The Constitution does not, of course, provide for display or maintenance of any Mace in the Legislature.
However, it would be wrong to dismiss the West Bengal Legislative Assembly House as only a piece of heritage architecture or a place to enact legislation. Its walls have resounded with debates over demands of more self rule by Indians, on the decision to partition Bengal before Independence. It had been a mute witness of change of power when the first non-Congress government was formed in 1969 by Ajoy Mukherjee and Jyoti Basu or when the Left Front came to office with land slide victory in 1977 and when they exited after 34 years by the “paribartan” engineered by Trinamul Congress led by Ms Mamata Banerjee. It has truly been the scene of great dramatic developments in political history.