A registry of engineers is the need of the hour to ensure that safety standards are adhered to at every stage of construction, ACCE-I president, P. Suryaprakash, tells Ranjani Govind

Civil and structural engineers from all over India and abroad spoke at the national Forensic Civil Engineering conference and exhibition in the city organised by the Association of Consulting Civil Engineers-India (ACCE-I) recently. Its President, P. Suryaprakash, who presented a paper on engineering aspects related to construction safety at sites, later spoke to The Hindu about wider issues and apprehensions bothering the construction sector, in the wake of a series of accidents that have occurred at construction sites in Bangalore that is “putting the civil engineering fraternity at unease.” “Even now, if we do not have the Engineers Bill passed by our Parliamentarians to bring in a registry of engineers, then India will be left far behind, as we just don’t measure up to the organised sectors of the international real estate scene,” he says.

Suryaprakash explains, “Forensic engineering is a branch that points out mistakes that have lead to a building collapse. Although this validation serves as lessons to avoid such unfortunate incidents, there has to be an official ‘working system’ adhered to and legislations and by-laws put in place for making people in construction accountable.”

Soil test

Narrating a typical case of soil-testing failure that proved fatal to a building, he says, a three-storeyed building some time ago in Hyderabad, after construction, had suddenly caved in due to pressure created by the foundation work taken up in the neighbouring site. “This is where soil tests for assessing the required strength of columns and beams get fundamental. People have to be informed that there are four categories of engineers associated with a building for its safety. The foremost is the geo-technical engineer who tests the soil, depending on which the structural engineer steps in to gauge the steel and concrete requirements given in his drawings. The proof or review consultant analyses if these inclusions are in line for practical safety, and the fourth, supervising engineer at the site, has to monitor if all of these are adhered to and are in place. This is the basic requirement for ‘engineering’ safety but if all these are overlooked and masons take over, then one can only have a sad ‘storey,’” says Suryaprakash.

The licensed surveyor from the local body/government too has to understand these technicalities when he comes for periodical checks during construction, but does this happen, he asks.

Suryaprakash says either the National Building Code specifications have to be followed threadbare or the Central Vigilance Commission quality parameters used for government buildings have to be extended to public buildings for getting in some kind of a standard for checking.

Wake-up call

But beyond all this, India has to wake up to the call from the civil engineering fraternity for putting a regulatory body in place that would recognise and control construction activities, says the ACCE chief. “The Engineers Bill is still waiting to be passed. This is paramount for us as an engineering community, as it will bring in a registry of engineers in India and would wield a wand of discipline and make every person involved in this business accountable. If there can be a regulatory body for doctors, chartered accountants and lawyers, why can’t there be one for construction engineers where the guilty could see their ‘status’ get cancelled?” he asks.

“Right now, if your Occupancy Certificate is not going to be a comprehensive certification of the engineers involved, then what kind of safety are we talking about? The MPs have to determine where we are positioned in terms of the active global standards that are in place. Even the Real Estate Bill, under consideration now, does not address the engineers’ accredited credentials that ACCE has been asking for,” rues Suryaprakash.

System in place

It would be of interest to know that Singapore has set an example of having one of the best construction rules and systems in the world.

Explains the engineer, “Every building in Singapore has authorities inspecting it with a hawk’s eye and this continues at every stage until it is done up perfectly for occupation. An accredited structural engineer gives his drawings for a particular building to be constructed. This is checked by an accredited checker (structural) and then sent to the Building and Construction Authority (Singapore) for obtaining a notice for proceeding. At every stage of construction, an inspector from the Authority does his job, and at the end an Occupation Certificate is issued by the Authority. If there is ‘distress’ noticed in the building, the building is simply shut for correction measures to be taken up. A temporary certificate to ensure there is no further distress is issued, but if the authorities notice a design failure, the licence of the engineer involved is cancelled. This is described as zero-tolerance of failure.”

Suryaprakash says only an Engineers Bill can put things in place with documentation of every stage of construction that can help review every work.

Can India look forward to this, he asks with concern.