PUNE: The Bombay high court has ruled that the Council of Architecture's (CoA) July 5 decision to deny approval to the Marathwada Mitra Mandal's College of Architecture (MMCA), disregarding even the assessment report of an expert panel that inspected the college at the behest of the court, is arbitrary and unsustainable.

"The decision, which is contrary to the assessment report of the expert panel, suffers from the vice of arbitrariness and prima facie the element of bias cannot be ruled out," the high court division bench of Justices Anoop Mohta and A A Sayed observed on July 16 in an order that set aside the CoA's decision.

The court has allowed the college to provisionally admit 30 students to its five-year bachelor of architecture (BArch) degree course for 2014-15.

The CoA, which claims to be the only body with powers of regulating architecture profession and education in the country, had barred the college from admitting students since 2007, citing the college's "failure" to maintain minimum standards. In December 2007, it also recommended the HRD ministry to derecognize the college.

The college has, however, maintained that the CoA has no powers to derecognize colleges as architecture education falls within the regulatory ambit of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), which had approved its student intake. Between 2007 and 2012, it kept admitting students through the director of technical education (DTE) and the University of Pune (UoP) awarded them BArch degrees.

The CoA insists all these admissions were illegal and the Architect Act, 1972 has no provision for registering such admissions. The college has moved the high court against this by filing a writ petition, which is pending final disposal.

Last year, the MMCA could not admit students after the high court rejected its prayers for interim reliefs in the form of a stay on the CoA's December 21, 2007 resolution recommending the central government to derecognize the college and a stay on the May 10, 2013 public notice listing the college among unapproved institutions.

The college then approached the state government with a plea to inspect its facilities and make appropriate recommendations to the central government on the derecognition issue.

While taking the July 5 decision, the CoA ignored several factors like the state government's letter to the HRD ministry in November last year, stating that the college should not be derecognized in view of the inspection by a five-member committee, led by the DTE, which found no faults with the infrastructure, equipment, faculty and other norms. On March 4, the HRD ministry wrote to the CoA that it had accepted the state government's recommendation. On January 13, the University of Pune (UoP) had granted continuation of affiliation to the college.

The high court had ordered the CoA on June 14 to get the college inspected by an expert panel. The panel inspected the college on June 26 and 27 and gave a satisfactory report to the council, giving 79.90 out of 100 score for meeting various standards and norms. This was way above the minimum required score of 60. Still, the CoA executive committee decided to reject the college's approval claim.

"We are happy that the high court has recognized our position and have allowed us to admit students this year," said Bhausaheb Jadhav, secretary of Marathwada Mitra Mandal trust which runs the institution.

The college may have gotten relief but, a sizeable number of its students, who have graduated from three batches since 2011, continue to struggle as the CoA is adamant on not issuing them the all important registration to enable them practice as architects.

"Our crucial formative years of professional practice are going waste for no good reason," said some of these young graduates who spoke to the TOI on Friday. It's not just the graduates but even the present students (admitted between 2009 and 2012) are worried about facing a similar fate on completion of their studies.

Jadhav said, "A number of these graduates have submitted their pleas with the CoA for registration but the council authorities are telling them that the pleas won't be processed. They are not committing anything in writing by way of rejecting the pleas as they know they can't take such action. The UoP, which has granted the degrees, is a statutory university listed in the council's schedule. As such, the degrees cannot be deregonized. The council authorities know they would create a cause of action for students to move the court, if they reject the pleas."

He said, "We are willing to fight it out in the court on behalf of the students for their registration but students are wary of making such move. The Supreme Court is currently seized of a matter involving the CoA's challenge to the Jodhpur bench of the Rajasthan high court's ruling to the effect that degrees awarded by statutory universities cannot be derecognized. We hope the outcome of this matter will enable the students to secure registration soon."

(The Dispute)

Since 2002, the CoA and the AICTE are locked in a power struggle over who is the final authority for fixing norms and standards for architecture education. The council views the colleges (MMCA included) sanctioned by AICTE as illegal. On September 8, 2004, the Bombay high court passed an order in the Kolhapur-based Prince Shivaji Maratha Board's college of architecture case, stating that Architects Act is a special legislation and AICTE Act is a general legislation. As such, the CoA has primacy over the AICTE in the matters of fixing norms and standards for architecture education. The AICTE has challenged this order in the Supreme Court where the matter is pending.

(How It Has Impacted Students)

Close to 350 students, including those who have graduated from the MMCA in last three years, face the prospect of not getting registration from the CoA. Without registration, they can not practice as architects.