Friday, April 13, 2012

India needs a Nodal Agency to oversee Engineering Practice

A US $ 1.0 Tr. investment!
A rapidly developing country like India, has been investing and is going to continue to invest very heavily in the scaling up of our infrastructure, and is looking to make available upwards of US $ 1.0 Trillion in the coming years, which is equal to more than half of the nations’ current GDP value (Nominal, US $ 1.84 Tr. 2011). This is an exceedingly large sum of money which will have to be efficiently and intelligently allocated and spent with a conscience, requiring a very high standard of moral fiber, impeccable ethical conduct and the finest professional capabilities.
Who will spend this humongous amount of money?
Looking at the investment from the perspective of – as to who will actually plan for, and spend that huge sum of money, I have to say that one is a little disconcerted by what is currently the situation prevailing in the country. These funds will be spent by thousands of Engineers from varied fields – like Civil Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Highway Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Electronics Engineers, Telecommunication Engineers and Engineers of many other specializations working both within the Government Departments as well as in Private Enterprise involved in Infrastructure Projects. Judging from the recent past, and the news stories that seem to break with sordid regularity, this class of professional has not exactly covered him / herself in glory! I’m pretty certain that the Public Works Department (PWD) in any of the States in the country, without a doubt, will have innumerable instances of corruption and unethical practices on record. Similarly, the Departments handling projects of Power Generation and Distribution, Telecom Infrastructure and sadly even the holy grail of Engineering edifices – Space Exploration has recently been tainted by scandal. The nexus between the Technocrat – Bureaucrat – Politicians has ensured that the scale of the scandals is becoming ever larger and the chances of retribution slimmer by the day.
Almost all the decisions in these departments are taken by Engineers of various specializations, and incorrect decisions made with malafide intent calls for the harshest punishment including losing one license to practice. However, it is quite evident that nothing much except for a benign Departmental Slap-on-the-wrist is administered to these wayward professionals. In my view, India does not have the required legislation or the collective will to correct this malaise. Thus, speaking in broad generalization, the poor Human Development Index and the High Corruption Index of this Nation has been administered to and supervised by its Engineers. As I too, am an Engineer by qualification, this situation both infuriates and saddens me.
We as a Nation have been placing our trust in the hands of these professionals who have Embezzled the State, Performed to a Very Poor Professional Standard in terms of the Planning, Design and Execution, indulged in the Dereliction of Duty by allowing substandard quality of work to get approved, indulged in the Lowest of Ethical Behavior by supporting Illegal Mining and Deforestation, and finally even Putting a Spoke in the Wheels of Development of this Nation by consistently delivering Poor Quality Infrastructure. In a poor Nation like India, this constitutes Criminal Behavior to say the least. One only has to closely study the quality of more than 90% of the roads built in this country, to wholeheartedly agree with the above conclusion. Sure, there have been positives too, but these are few and far in between, and they too, will never be able to stand up to a Challenge Scrutiny, where it can be shown that every stage of the project from the Concept to the Inauguration was handled in a flawless professional manner and completed as per the agreed Time / Cost / Quality parameters. I will of course, be delighted to be proven wrong on this!
Engineers in India
While almost every other professional body, be it Architects, Lawyers, Chartered Accountants, Doctors or Company Secretaries are governed by the rules of their Councils which have been set up by acts of Parliament, and follow established Codes of Practice, Ethical Behavior, and is made aware of his or her Professional Responsibility towards the Nation, Engineers are governed by their conscience alone.
All other professionals are expected to toe the line of their Councils and failure to do so could result in the loss of Accreditation or the License to Practice their profession. Engineers have no such Damocles sword hanging over their head.
The malpractice of a lawyer, or a doctor or an auditor may adversely affect an individual or a small group, while malpractice by Engineers has affected a billion people and has kept India backward despite the untold Crores spent on development. Thus, this a body of professionals that desperately needs some supervision.
Why is it that such a critical profession, tasked with the very development of the Nation itself, is not governed by a Council or Nodal Body? Why are Engineers not required to take an Oath of Ethical Behavior and Professional Competence when they are spending the Nation’s wealth? Pertinent questions indeed, and for some reason, unasked often enough for the past 60 years of our existence.
Thus, there is enough evidence to back the statement that The Moral Fiber of our Engineers has been seen to be woefully weak. Now, what about standards of professional competence? Engineers in India, unlike those in very highly regulated nations like the US or some of the EU Nations, are expected to intelligently interpret the rules and codes to ensure that the design or specification meets all the stated purposes. In the US for instance, there is a detailed code of practice for almost every Engineering activity, from basic wiring specification for a home right up to a massive engineering project, and Engineers are required to largely conform to the relevant code. While here in India, Engineers are tasked with conjuring up solutions that are largely derived from First Principles, and are expected to intelligently meet the needs of the Client, Local Body, Federal Government, the Environment and Society at large. In such a scenario, how many Engineers have the sagacity of vision to see their work from the above overall perspective, is a question one is forced to ask, and also forced to answer with the response ‘woefully few’. Thus, the professional quality of a vast majority of our engineers also leaves a lot to be desired. Sadly, a majority of our best brains leave for greener pastures or saner work cultures abroad and choose not to repay their debt to the Nation.
Engineering Education in India
While Engineering education in India varies from the highly theoretical and analytical research approach of the IIT’s to the very basic of rote learning for the examinations at some of its far flung colleges, a vast majority of our Engineering Colleges and Technical Universities do manage to deliver a very sound quality of basic Engineering education. Thus, we have large numbers of properly qualified personnel, qualifying for degrees from hundreds of different Colleges and Universities, wherein the quality and capabilities of a good Student of Engineering is seen to be uniformly above average. Thus, it seems that quality of education is not the problem. What then? Once these thousands of technically qualified people enter the mainstream, they are literally let loose on the Nation with nary a control – that really is the problem. Engineers who are expected to perform an enlightened role in an environment vitiated by corruption for the past 60 years and not equipping them with the right perspective – that is the problem. Reasonably well qualified Engineers are swallowed up by a whirlpool of misconduct preexisting in the workplace – that is the problem.
What is required?
India urgently requires the Parliament to pass a law that sets up a Single Empowered Nodal Body or a Supervising Council to which every individual Engineer shall be asked to be a member of. Currently in the Council being planned, only Engineering Associations are planned to be drafted as members, which will not tackle the problem at hand in any satisfactory manner.
·         The Proposed Council shall draw up variously; a Charter, a Code of Conduct and a Role and Responsibilities Manifesto that an Engineer will be required to adhere to.
·         The Proposed Council shall periodically publish the list of Engineering Degrees that it recognizes and also define the Minimum Standards of Education in our Engineering Colleges and Technical Universities.
·         Every Engineer passing out with a recognized degree shall be asked to take an Oath wherein he or she will undertake to Perform his or her Duties to the highest level of Professional Competence and Scrutiny, and also Promise to Abhor Corrupt Practices of any kind, Promise to Protect the Environment, and ensure that all his or her Professional Decisions are always taken keeping the Interests of Society and the Nation paramount.
·         All members of the Proposed Council shall agree to a Charter of Disciplinary Action, where any proven misconduct shall result in the automatic loss of Membership of the Proposed Council. If the Proposed Council is conceived and created in the right sprit, then no employer will want to retain an Engineer who has been rusticated by his own Council. Loss of livelihood will be a serious threat and ensure that Engineers will always walk the straight and narrow path.
·         The Proposed Council shall of course be peopled by volunteers from the profession itself and shall have a Democratically Elected Leadership, who will perform duties related to Accreditation of Educational Institutions, Disciplinary Action, Peer Review and Administration of the Proposed Council itself. In my view, Democratic Leadership is critical for the Proposed Council to be taken seriously.
I look forward to the day when International Agencies monitoring corruption worldwide choose to place India close to the top of the list of countries where the Rule of Law applies and Corrupt Practices are shunned as a culture by its people. Several initiatives by Civil Society are currently being lobbied for, and the adoption of a strong Jan Lokpal Bill (Anti-Corruption Ombudsman) would be crucial to the improvement of our transparency ratings. Further to the Jan Lokpal, the above suggestion to bring all our Engineers under the control of a Proposed Council will further our goal to becoming a corruption-free society. I pray that the day is not too distant in the future.
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  1. The bar council of India or the Medical council of Indiahaven't largely impacted the way these professions function.? Or have they?as long as greed and avarice rule the roost... I wonder how effective any council/organisation would be ....

    1. Hi Sandhya, thank you for your post.
      The quality of the supervision in any Professional Council would be dictated by the Articles of its Association and the vision and sagacity of the people administering them. The Election Commission of India has been governed by the same laws since independence, but it ceased being a toothless tiger only when Seshan took over as the CEC. Fortunately, all the later CEC's too have upheld the veracity of the EC as an independent no-nonsense institution, and now it is almost impossible for any future CEC to be a spineless Yes Man of any Government. Thus, I feel that if we draw up a robust rules framework, sooner or later a stalwart will stand up and be counted.

      In my view, the proposed Council would be the ideal platform for someone who wants to make a change.

  2. Reproduction of the mail written to Mr. Shali, Director of the Engineering Council of India and his response.

    ----- Original Message -----

    Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 2:28 PM
    Subject: Engineering Practice in India

    Dear Mr. Shali,
    Engineering Council of India.

    I write this mail in the background of the announcement that the Indian Government is planning to invest US $ 1.0 Trillion towards the upgradation of its infrastructure.

    Considering the past history of corruption and poor supervision of investments by the folks tasked with the spending of the Nations' funds, this is a recipe for disaster and we are sure to see rampant leakage at every level.

    In my view, India's Engineers will largely be instrumental in spending this large war chest, but unfortunately, they are largely unsupervised and not subject to Peer Review or submit to a Council currently, and I have in my blog advocated the setting up of an Empowered Nodal Agency to ensure the ethical and corruption free behavior by our Engineers. Please visit I do hope you will also see the issue of registration of Engineers as an exercise towards transparency and abatement of corruption in addition to your other stated goals.

    Thanking you in anticipation,


    Hemanth Sharma
    BE Civil, PGCM

    Sent from my Nokia phone

    On Wed, Apr 18, 2012 at 4:38 PM, wrote:
    From: P. N. Shali
    Sent: 18/04/2012 17:13:15
    Subject: Re: Engineering Practice in India


    I fully agree. This is what we in the ECI are trying to do. Please keep in touch. Let me have your photo (soft copy). Your letter has been selected to be included in the June Issue of The Indian Engineer as the Letter to the editor.


    Engineering Council of India