The cause of the stink that caused a furore in the Rajya Sabha in May, twice forcing Members to suspend work, has been traced. The popular canteen, known for serving food at highly subsidised prices, has been identified as the main culprit, followed by toilets that have been added to the heritage building over the years.
Following a terse diktat from Vice-President Hamid Ansari's office to find the source of the stink and a solution, the Central Public Works Department, in its findings, has laid the blame on the canteen.
“The canteen was not part of the original design; it has been created in what was a vacant space. The refuse that is transported out of the building ferments and decays inside the waste removal pipes that have not been designed to take the amount or the kind of waste the canteen generates,” said a senior official in the Ministry of Urban Development. “The waste spills out into the tunnels that have been built to cover the pipes. It accumulates and generates a foul smell that then circulates in the whole building through the air conditioning ducts that too are a recent addition to the building.”
The canteen is used by Members of the Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha, officials who are part of the secretariats of the both Houses, all the subordinate staff, visitors and journalists. During sessions, the canteen rustles up thousands of meals every day.
“The waste from the canteen, mostly uncooked food and oils, together known as sullage, is very hard to break down. When it moves into the pipes it decomposes easily and, left there for too long, releases a very foul odour. Which is what has been happening in Parliament and can happen again,” the official said.
Contributing to this stink are the toilets that have been built over the years, adding to the burden on the limited waste removal infrastructure.
“Parliament's original design has been altered to accommodate the growing number of people. Vacant spaces in the corridors and even on the staircases have been converted into office spaces and several toilets have also been added. These toilets too contribute to the sullage. Sewage is being treated and taken out as per the laid guideline, but dealing with sullage is difficult and adds to our worries,” the official said.
While the CPWD sees “removing the canteen from its current designated spot” as a “solution,” it also wants action taken against “encroachments” in the historic building.
“Though there is a Central Vista Committee and Heritage Committee headed by the Speaker of the Rajya Sabha, there should be a more holistic approach to constructions in Parliament building. If we have to retain its heritage value, then we have to deal with the encroachments that been made on vacant spaces. For example, the canteen stores LPG cylinders for cooking, which is a hazard and is avoidable. Maintenance of the existing infrastructure is already being done, but additions to the building without extensive studies, consultation etc have resulted in anomalies like the stink engulfing the House twice in May,” the official said.
On May 10, Rajya Sabha was adjourned after MPs complained of a foul smell that was initially described as a gas leak. The incident recurred on May 18, forcing an adjournment.