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Stone swap for new Afghan parliament

New Delhi, Dec. 28: Afghanistan’s new parliament building, which India is building at its own expense, was to be pale yellow but now it will be white.

The Afghans had insisted that the outer cladding be done with the local yellow marble named after the Samangan province where it is quarried, but lack of security in the trouble-torn area meant not enough of the stone could be mined.

With the original deadline already having passed, India put its foot down and decided to use locally sourced white marble instead.

“They had delivered just about 10,000sqft of (Samangan) stone but we need one lakh square feet,” said Rakesh Mishra, director-general of India’s central public works department (CPWD), which is involved in the construction.

White marble is costlier than the Samangan marble but Mishra said: “There will be no cost overruns because we have told them we would pay the price we had decided for Samangan.”

The CPWD had proposed to import the white marble from India or Pakistan because the local Afghan stone is far costlier thanks to higher production costs in a country with steep taxes and higher power tariffs. But Kabul said an Afghan stone should be used to give the building a local touch.

India had begun construction in 2008 as part of its efforts at helping rebuild war-torn Afghanistan. Almost three-fifths of the project is now complete, and if the new deadline of December 2013 is met, the next batch of MPs can step into the new House after the April 2014 elections.

The CPWD had drafted six building plans in 2005 but choosing the final design took three years of discussions with Kabul. The building will stand opposite the ruins of the Darul Aman Palace, built in the 1920s by the then king, Amanullah Khan.

Four domed octagonal buildings, each surrounded by a corridor with Doric-style columns, will make up the parliament complex. A few of the columns will have carvings.

At the entrance will be a 2,600sqm lobby with a fountain under a dome with a translucent polycarbonate sheet as roof.

“With light filtering from the top right over the fountain, it will create a beautiful atmosphere,” a senior official said. The flooring here will be of Crema Italian.

The main hall or the Wolesi Jirga (House of the people) will be the largest structure, its imposing dome clad in copper. The dome will have a diameter of 31.4 metres and a ceiling height of 14.55 metres.

The basement of Wolesi Jirga will have a prayer hall, whose floor will be a mix of ruby red granite and black granite.

Last week, a team of officials from the CPWD and the urban development and foreign ministries visited Kabul to review the project’s progress.