I have set down to write very early today as it is a rare day where I couldn’t dare start my day with a newspaper. I don’t have to emotional strength to look at the images that will be plastered on the first page of every newspaper today.

A fire in Surat has taken lives of at least 19 young people who had gone to a coaching class (most ironically) for NATA, the architecture entrance test.

Though I am blaming the system and society at large for the tragedy, I have a personal guilt that forces me to bow my head with shame.

I am trained at the finest school of architecture of India and for decades, I have written about failure of the profession of architecture in India, and more so of its regulating body Council of Architecture. 

Unfortunately, I am not good enough a writer and hence have failed miserably in moving the professional fraternity of architects and their guardian angel, the mighty Council of Architecture, established through The Architect Act, 1972. 

So, I am accepting my failure and plead guilty for the deaths of young kids who would not have died if we had woken up on time.

Till now, I have tried addressing architects and CoA through my articles, but I am now accepting my defeat and thus want to write to the policy-makers involved with governing construction and real estate development activities.

If we are a new India, then we need to change, and change drastically. And to understand what needs to change, we need to first analysis the current situation.

If we focus on Surat tragedy, in all likelihood, the coaching classes were operated from an illegal part of a building, so it is important to study who is responsible for the “illegal” part of the problem.

To start with, the building must have been made by a builder, who must have appointed an architect recognised by CoA or an engineer registered with the Surat Municipal Corporation as an architect (don’t ask “Why?”, because Indian courts say they can. QED) to design the building.

As per Indian laws, every building must be designed as per local rules of General Development Control Regulations (GDCR) and National Building Code (NBC), while also keeping in mind various Indian Standard (IS) Codes that prescribe quality and processes, so this building too must have, at least on paper, a professional ensuring that all the relevant laws and rules are followed.

While the building is likely to have a Building Use (BU) permit from Surat Municipal Corporation, the actual building is unlikely to be as per the approved plans and designs.

If we try and identify those who may be party to illegal construction, the usual suspects would be the owner of the premises or the builder. The co-conspirators may include chain of office bearers in Municipal Corporation or the politicians who may have provided immunity to illegal construction.

While all of the above are party to the crime, my own moral judgement points the finger at the architect, who is Dhrutarastra or Sahadeva as per your choice of the Mahabharat of illegal construction in India.

As per the law, it is the job of an “architect” to see that a building is designed as per the prescribed rules and regulations. 

He is an authority and an expert and hence awarded with a professional title that makes his sign on a drawing a stamp of approval that the building is safe for human use.

So, when a building kills a human being, architect should be the first accused, but is rarely treated so. This is because the current system has failed in defining roles and worse, in the current market, architect has voluntarily dived to the very bottom of the power pyramid.

Architects have given up on standing up to the vested interests driven by greed of builders and businessmen and are just designing what they are asked to design.

If you ask them, they have reasons like “Engineers and even unqualified people are allowed to design, what can we do?” or “The builder modified the building after taking BU permit, what can we do?” or “CoA is not doing anything, what can we do?” or even “No one listens to us, what can we do?”.

In short, an Indian architect is a man/woman ready with a “What can we do?” for everything and hence needs to be relieved of the responsibility that he/she is unable to recognise or shoulder.

As Indian architects refuses to grasp that they have a social role to rise and counter something that is damaging the society in a way that they only can see, we need to leave them to discuss better things like the juxtaposition of urban fabric with traditional art form or materiality of texture of the space instead of bothering them with mundane issues like fire safety. 

It is great to have architects as an artistic community, but with people dying because they are unable to bear the social responsibility assigned to them, we need to do something drastic.

What we need is establishment of a new professional title of Chartered Engineers (CE) with a role similar to Chartered Accountants.

Just as CAs act as quasi-judicial authority certifying accounts, we need to have CEs who certify legal compliance of every building. Just as CAs certify accounts every year, CEs must certify every building (of a certain size to reduce the procedural burden) every year.

Construction industry is a huge domain that has now become as lawless as it can get because art/philosophy oriented architects have failed to act like empowered professionals, so we need to establish another more pragmatic authority to replace them.

This makes sense from the employability perspective also as we are currently flooding the market with engineers who can’t find a job. If we bring in an opportunity of becoming a CE through an exam, it will help kids to find a meaningful and socially contributing vocation too.