By Suraksha P | Chennai
Published: 27th October 2014 06:00 AM, 
Last Updated: 25th October 2014 05:16 AM

With the boom in the construction industry, increasing population and rapid urbanisation, careful and calculated city planning is essential. Unauthorised constructions have become commonplace, and a spate of building collapses across the country in the recent months have left glaring questions of accountability, competence and qualifications of structural engineers, civil engineers, architects and city planners.

Mofussil towns are notorious for having building plans drawn by under-qualified architects. Metropolitan cities are no strangers to this practice either. In this scenario, proper regulation of the profession both on the academic and professional front becomes imperative.

The Council of Architecture (CoA) was constituted by the Government of India under the provisions of the Architects Act, 1972. The Act provides for registration of architects, standards of architecture education in India, and qualifications and standards of practice to be complied with by practising architects. The CoA is entrusted with the responsibility of regulating architecture education and the practice of architecture throughout India, besides maintaining a register of architects.

A five year Bachelor’s degree in Architecture comprises  four years of institutional academic studies and one year of practical training in the office of a professional. The theoretical and practical rigour of the course compares with the gruelling nature of a course in medicine. There are 387 architecture institutes in the country and the CoA is fraught with challenges in terms of enforcing both academic and professional norms.

Reining in the boom

On the academic front, the CoA is flooded with applications to start new architecture colleges and it is in favour of this growth. But maintaining standards has always been a challenge. “One hundred smart cities are expected to come up in the near future. Professional development should be on par with urban development. We have more engineers than required — in lakhs whereas just 15,000-16,000 architecture students graduate every year when the annual requirement is 55,000-60,000 architects. Therefore, we are in favour of architectural colleges proliferating in the country,” says Prof Uday C Gadkari, President, Council of Architecture and Director, IDEAS-Institute of Design Education and Architecture Studies, in a telephonic conversation with edex adding that they received 106 applications in 2013, out of which only 55-60 schools were granted approval.

Question of inspections

The CoA is supposed to inspect colleges only every five years, according to the law.“We conduct inspections annually for new institutions for the first five years. For surprise inspections, the team includes one professor and one teacher along with inspectors, who are mostly practising architects. We also ensure that the inspector does not belong to the same State the college is located in. This way we do have checks and balances in place. Yet they are not sufficient,” says Kiran S Mahajani on telephone. He is a CoA member and Principal of Aayojan School of Architecture, Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Starved of funds and staff

“The CoA president’s office is just 800-1,000 sq feet. Files keep piling up, as we are inadequately staffed,” Mahajani says adding that financial support has always been an issue.  “We have been charging the same fees for the past 20 years for registration of architects. The CoA finally announced a fee revision in August this year but that is not enough,” he adds. Agreeing, Prakash Deshmukh, President, Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) and member of CoA, says on phone the CoA has not received a single penny from the Centre in the 40 years of its existence adding that the Council has been self-sustaining since its inception. “We survive on contributions from members, registration fees of architects and fees paid by institutions for inspections,” he says.  

Allegations of bribery

Five years ago, there were allegations of bribery against the CoA’s top brass. The law does not permit the CoA to charge for inspections, and several institutions alleged that the CoA charged exorbitant fees for inspections resulting in a CBI probe to be initiated. There were also allegations that the Council conducted inspections more than once in five years and that it has not had a single audit when an annual audit is mandated by the law. The CBI probe is underway and the matter is subjudice.

CoA – limited powers

The CoA’s powers and jurisdiction have always been challenged when it came down heavily on erring colleges flouting its norms. A case in point is Budha College of Architecture, Karnal, Haryana. After CoA received a number of complaints, surprise inspections revealed that the college was running only on weekends. There was acute shortage of faculty and that there were no attendance records. The CoA had asked the students to transfer to other colleges.

It had withdrawn its approval to the college last year owing to non compliance of its norms. The college trust challenged the decision in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The court ruled in favour of the college, saying the CoA does not have the power to derecognise a college and could only make recommendations to the Centre. Prof Gadkari says that the CoA has challenged the judgment in the divisional bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. “There have been 19-29 cases throughout the country challenging the authority of the council where we have had favourable judgments. This particular case wasn’t in our favour. That does not mean we don’t have the power to withdraw recognition. We have been regulating architecture education in the country since 1972,” he says. Chandigarh College of Architecture  also had a protracted battle with the CoA maintaining it did not have the power to stop admissions to a college according to the Architects Act.

Lack of timely action

According to the law, the CoA is required to keep the Central Government informed of the standards being maintained by the institutions and is only empowered to make recommendations to the Government of India with regard to recognition and derecognition of a qualification. “Of course, we recognise or derecognise an institute with the knowledge of the Government, but in the past when we made recommendations to the Government with regard to de-recognition, for eight to nine years the Government did not respond,” he points out.

He goes on to give examples of MM College of Architecture, Maharashtra, and Apeejay Institute of Technology - School of Architecture and Planning, Noida, UP, where the Government did not act on the recommendations of the CoA.

Divya Kush, Vice-President, IIA, says in a telecom that the law is open to interpretation by various courts, but asks the question, “If the CoA does not have powers to take any action against erring colleges, why did the Government not question it for 40 years? What is the purpose of the CoA? Just to sleep over the findings of its inspections?” He advocates for independence of the CoA and says that the Council is a quasi-judicial force. “Any statutory body, be it the Bar Council, the Medical Council or the CoA cannot be ordered about,” he asserts.  

De-recognition of colleges therefore is a double-edged sword. If the CoA goes ahead with it on its own initiative, students are affected. On the other hand, the longer they wait for Government approval, more students get admitted to the colleges and consecutive batches too get affected.  

Asked if there should be a clause included in the Architects Act to make recommendations time bound, Prof Gadkari says, “I don’t think there should be a clause to make the Central Government decisions time-bound. Isn’t that how a government should function in the first place?”

Delay in gazette notification

Minimum Standards of Architectural Education, 2008, that supplements the Regulations of 1983 has not been included in the Gazette of India, resulting in implementation problems. “The process of educating cannot stop for the lack of a gazette notification. The Government cannot sleep over it,” the professor complains.

Fate of SPA’s twin cousins

One would think students flocking to institutes of national importance just like IITs and IIMs have bright career prospects. But this is not the case with two such schools of Architecture. School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi, is one of the top ranked institutes in the country. However graduates from its sister institutes, SPA Vijayawada and Bhopal will not be getting their licences from the CoA to practise as architects.

These institutions were set up in 2008 and two batches of students have passed out since. But they do not have a Degree from their respective institutes. A Bill declaring these institutes as Institutes of National Importance has been pending in Parliament, and they are currently functioning as off campus centres of SPA, Delhi. The UGC does not recognise off-campus centres, hence till the Bill is passed, the students will be left in the lurch.

“For five-six years, we didn’t even know these institutes existed. They do not have the CoA approval and are not affiliated to any university. We do not have the power to ask them to stop admitting students or grant their graduates licence to practise,” Prof Gadkari says.

The question of jurisdiction has always been a sore thumb for the CoA. Colleges running without approval have challenged its capacity to ban admissions. On the professional front, the CoA has a disciplinary committee that investigates professional negligence of a registered architect and takes appropriate action if found guilty. But in majority of building collapse cases that have made national headlines, the building plans were either approved by civil engineers without the consultation of architects or those that were not registered with the CoA. In such cases, the CoA has no role to play.

It seems imperative, therefore, that the country’s apex architectural body be endowed with powers and resources to regulate building practices in India along with measures to prevent misuse of office.