It is a landmark judgment and one that brings immense relief to students from institutes of architecture in India. Many who had successfully completed the toughest of degree programmes in architecture were not being registered by the Council of Architecture (CoA) to practice. This was not because they did not have the requisite skills or grades. The problem was that they belonged to institutes which did not have CoA approval. Now, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that the CoA, an autonomous statutory body constituted under the Architects Act, 1974, has no power to grant or withdraw approval for any institute.
The judgment also comes as a relief to top architectural Indian institutes such as the Chandigarh College of Architecture, which has been functioning for the last six years without CoA approvals.
“There is nothing in the Act that makes it possible for the CoA to withdraw approval. The manner of regulating the intake, depending on the strength of the faculty, would surely vest with the Council, but for any deficiency that arises, it will have no power to take any action for withdrawal of sanction to admit students than to make appropriate recommendations for the Central Government to act,” writes Justice K Kannan after interpreting sections 19, 20 and 21 of the Architects Act, 1974.
The issue came before the high court due to a dispute between the Budha College of Architecture, Karnal, and CoA.
In July 2012, a CoA inspector had recommended increase of student intake in the college from 40 to 80. The inspector in his report had also praised the faculty, infrastructure and other facilities.
However, just eight months later, in March 2013, the inspector conducted a surprise inspection and reported that the institute was not fit to run any degree course. Subsequently, in May 2013, the CoA directed the institute not to admit any student and transfer the existing batch (up to third year) to some other institution. CoA also ordered that fourth-year students would not be eligible for admission on migration at the fourth-year level in any other college.
The Lala Khushi Ram Gupta Charitable Society, which runs Budha College and its students filed a petition in the High Court pleading for quashing of the CoA order. The college not only defended its compliance with CoA norms, it also argued that the CoA had no power to withdraw any recognition as this was contrary to the provisions of the Architects Act of 1974.
The petitioner’s argument, as stated in the high court judgment, is: “For any defect or deficiencies noted by the Council, it (CoA) could only make its recommendation to the government as the Union government alone has the power to withdraw the recognition granted to the institute.
The institute is affiliated with the Kurukshetra University and the university had carried out its inspection.
Agreeing with the petitioner’s argument, the HC said, “It must be remembered that the recognition that an institute obtains is through an affiliation with the University which carries its own inspection and as in this case, it would be evident from the documents placed that the University has carried out its inspections and they have found nothing deficient and they have allowed for the continuance of affiliation.”
HC judgment and its consequences
# Till now, architectural institutes in India used to secure approvals for: first - getting affiliation from a recognised university; and second - an approval from CoA after an inspection to confirm whether the institute complies with the minimum prescribed standards in terms of faculty, infrastructure etc
# Now after HC judgment, once an institute gets affiliation/recognition from a university established under central and state acts, it doesn’t need any CoA approval. A list of such universities is already there in the schedule under Section 14 of the Architects Act, 1974. The Central government can add or delete universities by a notification in the official gazette
# The CoA has control over preparation of academic content and regular/surprise inspections to check compliance of its norms
# If a college or institution does not conform to the standards, the Council of Architecture is competent to make a representation to the state government which will forward the same with its remarks to the college and the central government. The final call rests with the central government