Legacy of The Council Chamber

The Council Chamber is a building located in Shimla, India, that houses the Legislative Assembly. Its past is as fascinating as its present. The British colonial government chose Shimla as the Summer Capital of the Imperial Government to escape the blistering summer of Delhi. Therefore, the Central Assembly required appropriate accommodation, and the construction of the building began near the 'Kennedy House.' This building was one of the last significant buildings to be constructed by the British, and it was completed at a cost of approximately Rs. 10 lacs. On August 27, 1925, Lord Reading, the then Viceroy of India, inaugurated the edifice.

The main hall of the Council Chamber provided seats for 145 Central Assembly Members, including 104 elected and 41 nominated members. The President's dias was flanked by the Viceroy's box (now called the Governor's box) on the left and a box for officers on the right. The chair for the President was gifted by the Government of Burma and was made of the renowned Burma teak wood. It is still in use in the H.P. Legislative Assembly. However, the Crown that topped the canopy was replaced by the 'Ashok Chakra' after India gained independence.

The Council Chamber has changed many hands after Independence. At the time of Partition, the Punjab Govt. was shifted to Shimla, and its Assembly held its meetings in this building. When the Punjab Assembly was moved to Chandigarh, the Assembly of Part 'C' State of H.P. got the pride of having its sittings in this Chamber. Sh. Jaiwant Ram was the first Speaker of the Pradesh Assembly to occupy the Chair. On October 31, 1956, when H.P. Assembly was dissolved following the Report of the State's Reorganization Commission, the Govt. Secretariat was shifted to this building when 'Himachal Dham' (the building in which Secretariat was housed) was gutted by fire in mid-1957.

The Council Chamber was first renovated in 1963 and was later renovated again in 1988 when the complete furniture of the Chamber was replaced, and the shape of the Hall was changed from rectangular to U-shape with the sitting capacity for 72 Members. The historic Chamber has seen many vicissitudes of fortunes and was an eye-witness to many epoch-making events. It has housed the Central Legislative Assembly, the Punjab Legislative Assembly, the Himachal Pradesh Govt. Secretariat, and the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly over the years.

The Council Chamber has seen the grandeur of the Viceroys and the dignity, grace, and glory of Vithalbhai Patel, the first elected President (or Speaker) of the Central Legislative Assembly. In fact, the first historic event that took place in the Council Chamber was his election to the Chair as the first non-official candidate, in accordance with the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament on the Govt. of India Act, 1919.

Sh. Vithalbhai Patel held office from 1925 to 1930 and is known for laying down the foundation for an independent/impartial Chair. It was he who declared in this Chamber that the person who occupies this Chair in the Assembly should be above all suspicions or being unconsciously biased in favour of any Party or Govt. He emphasized the need for a non-party President/Speaker and observed, "From this moment, I cease to be a party man. I belong to no party. I belong to all parties..." on his first election to the Chair.

To strengthen the independence of the office of President/Speaker, he declined to accept a ticket from any party for his re-election to the Central Legislative Assembly. Instead, he fought and won as an Independent Member and was soon re-elected unanimously to the Chair. Unfortunately, this healthy convention of a non-party Speaker was neither followed by his successors nor encouraged by the leadership of ruling parties in India.In this Chamber, President Patel passed a resolution for a separate Legislative Assembly Department under his supervision. He claimed accountability to the Assembly alone. This led to a more independent Secretariat for each Legislature. The Constitution later included this provision. The Central Legislature passed many important Resolutions here, including one for Indian Independence proposed by Pt. Motilal Nehru.

In conclusion, The Council Chamber has a rich history and has borne witness to many significant events. It is a building that has stood the test of time and is still used by the Legislative Assembly. The Chamber is a reminder of India's colonial past and the struggles of the Indian people to achieve independence and democracy. It is a place that every Indian should visit to understand the country's history and appreciate the sacrifices made by the freedom fighters who fought for India's freedom.

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