The Hindu (Mumbai)

The Karnataka civil engineers Bill, its pathway

- The views expressed are personal

The Karnataka Profession­al Civil Engineers Bill pushes a brightline rule and flounders

The goal of the Karnataka Profession­al Civil Engineers Bill, that was passed recently, to improve profession­alisation and constructi­on standards, is laudable. However, the route it recommends, which mandates only certified civil engineers to offer engineerin­g designs, is bound to create confusion, become unnecessar­ily restrictiv­e, turn impractica­l and remain out of sync with best practices.

The brick and mortar

The Bill establishe­s four key things. First, it defines a civil engineer, lists engineerin­g designs, imposes restrictio­ns on those who can offer engineerin­g design services, and, finally, instructs how to ensure this.

Anyone with a diploma or a degree in a civil engineerin­g discipline in India or abroad can qualify as a civil engineer. However, they must register with the Karnataka Council of Profession­al Civil Engineers within one year from the date of commenceme­nt of the Act. In addition, they should obtain a certificat­e to become a ‘profession­al civil engineer’ in Karnataka. For this, those with degrees need one year of experience, while those with diplomas require two years of experience. Only profession­al civil engineers can offer engineerin­g designs, which includes ‘civil, structural, geotechnic­al, and environmen­tal engineerin­g designs and drawings’. It also includes ‘conceptual plans, master plans, layout plans, and other designs and drawings for buildings and infrastruc­ture’.

The Bill insists that any building that is more than 50 square metres in plinth area or taller than the ground floor or that is not built with loadbearin­g masonry structure (meaning, buildings with columns and beams, and others) or a group housing project with more than three buildings must be supervised or executed or certified only by profession­al civil engineers. Strict gatekeepin­g is imposed by instructin­g government authoritie­s not to permit constructi­on unless registered profession­al civil engineers certify designs and drawings.

These provisions must be rethought for three reasons. First, despite the overlaps between profession­al services in the building industry, the Bill ,unmindfull­y and restrictiv­ely, defines engineerin­g designs. This is baffling since the Supreme Court of India, pointing out difficulti­es in a comparable situation involving architects, has refused to exclude related profession­als from offering overlappin­g services.

In 2020, while settling architects’ claim that their profession­al Act prohibits nonarchite­cts from offering architectu­ral services, the Court pointed out that services, including site design, structural design, structural integratio­n of services, incorporat­ion of mechanical systems and inspection of constructi­on, are carried out concertedl­y by a host of related profession­als. Hence, to favour one group by imposing ‘absolute prohibitio­n’ on others would lead to

‘considerab­le confusion’. It wisely observed that ‘varied profession­s form essential cogs in the overall machinery of constructi­on’ and one cannot take a hard and exclusiona­ry regulatory view.

It is probably for these reasons that the Gujarat Profession­al Civil Engineers Act, 2006, which is similar, is restrained in its scope. It limits registered profession­al civil engineers only to certify engineerin­g designs, which it does not define. Even this limited version may not withstand a legal challenge. Also, on the ground, anecdotall­y, the regulation­s are more honoured in the breach.

Global practices

Second, many countries are cautious about regulation­s restrictin­g competitio­n, reinforcin­g monopoly tendencies, raising prices, and working against user interest. Hence, they support the selfregula­tion of profession­s. Recalling a study on engineerin­g licensing and profession­al practice across several countries would also be worthwhile. It pointed out that “there is no hard evidence that tight engineerin­g licensure provides economic gains to societies”. Also, large firms that employ many engineers and architects could easily countervai­l these provisions, making them difficult to implement.

Third, many profession­al councils across the world, aware of these complexiti­es, have not tried to ring fence their services. Instead, they take the alternativ­e and effective route of protecting titles such as ‘chartered engineer or architect’ by establishi­ng a rigorous process that demands high academic standards and experience.

The councils also mandate additional peer interviews or examinatio­ns as nonnegotia­ble requiremen­ts. Through this, they let users know that profession­al titles are not offered lightly, and only the competent ones earn them. Users, convinced by the credibilit­y of the collective, voluntaril­y seek certified profession­als.

For example, the Engineerin­g Council in the United Kingdom clarifies that there are no restrictio­ns on practising as an engineer. However, it protects titles offered to the qualified and those who pass profession­al reviews. Only a limited number of highrisk constructi­ons, such as reservoir design and road tunnel safety regulation­s, are reserved for licensed persons. The same goes for the Architects Registrati­on Board in the U.K. In comparison, the Karnataka Bill seeks an absolute protection of services and falls short of licensing requiremen­ts. There are no examinatio­ns and fewer experience requiremen­ts in the Bill. It would serve better to tighten the process leading to certificat­ion.

The question of which profession­al is more competent to offer a particular service will continue to arise regularly. As was decided in one of the cases involving the architecte­ngineer dispute in the signing of drawings for permits in Washington State, U.S., there cannot be a brightline rule, and divisions are impossible in a ‘general sense’. It must be decided on an eventtoeve­nt basis, locally and based on education, experience, and special knowledge. What would be even better is to resist the demand for profession­al turfs to control supply. An effective solution would be to influence the demand side by continuous­ly demonstrat­ing the usefulness of profession­als and certificat­ion.

 ?? ?? A. Srivathsan is a professor at CEPT University, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
A. Srivathsan is a professor at CEPT University, Ahmedabad, Gujarat

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