Open letter to engineers, to share some bad news that is good news

Dear engineers,

Though I am into writing open letters to professional bodies, in case of engineers, I have no idea who to write to, as one of the saddest legislative lacuna of our nation is that India is yet to enact much-needed Engineers Act, and hence engineers can’t claim to have a statutorily recognised professional body.

I am sorry to say that, post New Delhi high court verdict allowing practice of “architecture” to all and sundry, especially juristic entities, I see some celebratory WhatsApp messages from engineers, and hence am tempted to break some bad news to you, but because I think it is good news.

The order is bad for architects, but lot worse for engineers working in construction industry, and lot lot worse for the man on the street, who is not at all aware of the mutually damaging secret turf war that is being fought by architects and engineers.

If engineers are celebrating that they can now print cards with “architecture” as part of services offered, the celebration would get short-lived as the New Delhi HC order will also make it possible for your maid and cook to form a juristic entity such as Private Limited Company and list “architecture” in its objective. And as “architecture” happens to be everything under the Sun, it will open the entire consulting domain to every Amar, Akbar and Anthony.

While architects have been feeling cheated by the High Court order, they have never bothered to understand the plight of engineers living without an Engineers Act.

Architects have Council of Architecture and an exclusive title, but even after seventy years of independence, Indian engineers are still helplessly struggling to get legal recognition and a regulated profession.

At this point, engineers are completely at the mercy of All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) that holds complete authority in bestowing engineering degrees, and sans any process of registration with a professional council, it just takes a degree for anyone to claim engineer-hood.

The tragedy is, it is AICTE and not a professional council at helm in making the title of engineer available, so there is absolutely no control of practicing engineers on who is admitted to their fraternity and of what skill-level. With wind of privatisation blowing hard, extremely substandard colleges of engineering have mushroomed across India churning out thousands of “engineers” with no quality control. So, the HC order is likely to lead to a mayhem for not just architects, but engineers too.

For me, as a citizen, government apathy for enacting Engineers Act is not just inexplicable, it is scary. Today, it is entirely possible for someone to claim status of “structural engineer” based on a qualification from any college approved by AICTE, take part in a government tender to build a large public building, quote extremely low fees and take the project without having anyone to check his/her skill-levels beyond the piece of paper of his/her academic degree.

My dear engineers,

I fully understand that you have been regularly voicing concern that, as AICTE is solely empowered to allow a college to grant degree of “engineer”, there is no mechanism to check if the person qualified thus can be granted such serious empowerment. I know that you have been struggling to get the mess sorted out, but no government has bothered to recognise seriousness of your problem. But, this high court order can be a blessing in disguise.

It could be a game changer that will cause disruption enough for government to wake up to act.

The high court order is likely to throw entire consulting sector in disarray due to opportunities it has created for “juristic entities”, but it has potential to be used as a window of opportunity to bring the problems of engineering consulting into national focus.

Though the order is primarily linked with branches of engineering linked with construction industry, it can be used to build a model mechanism for all engineering consulting work.

What you, ie various engineering associations, need to do is to sit with Council of Architecture and settle the confusion about scope of work. Collectively, they need to carve out exclusive domains and reach out to the government to make it understand the dangerous situation entire consulting industry is in due to absence of a regulating body for engineers. As real estate and infrastructure building is government’s focus area, it will be more willing to resolve problems linked to it. This can help you push the Engineers Act hard.

As the draft Engineers Act is going around in the system since decades now, if the government is willing, there is a great possibility that you can be third/fourth/fifth time lucky and realise the longstanding dream of having an act in a short period.

Once an act is available to form a regulator, you need to urgently constitute a mechanism of quality control for engineering profession. The kind of dilution we see in engineering education across the country, we are not too far from undermining the new India that we aspire to make. So, it is a dire need for the nation that a centralised system is put in place by you before allowing the use of the title “engineer” to anyone.

With hope that you will utilise the opportunity instead of wasting time in celebrating a defeat of architects,

Best wishes from a citizen hoping to see a strong India built with the help of engineers of his nation.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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