The Supreme court has held that Section 37 of the Architects Act does not prohibit individuals not registered under the Architects Act from undertaking the practice of architecture and its cognate activities.
The bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi observed that a post titled 'Architect', 'Associate architect' or any other similar title using the term or style of 'Architect' cannot be held by a person not registered as an architect under the Architects Act.
In an appeal filed against the Allahabad High Court judgment by the Architecture Council of India, the Apex Court considered these two questions. (1) Does Section 37 of the Architects Act prohibit individuals not registered as architects under the Architects Act from practicing the activities undertaken by architects, including the design, supervision and construction of buildings; and (ii) Whether a post titled 'Architect', 'Associate architect' or any other similar title using the term or style of 'Architect' can be held by a person not registered as an architect under the Architects Act.?
The High Court had held that Section 37 only prohibits unregistered individuals from using the title "architect". It was further held that the Promotion Policy 2005, which allowed for individuals not holding a degree in architecture being appointed to the Class II post of Associate Architect, did not contravene Section 37 of the Architects Act in so far as they would be carrying out the activities of an architect.
No Prohibition on Practice
To answer the first question, the bench took note of the phrase "no person shall … use the title and style of architect" in Section 37 and observed that the legal prohibition created is on the use of the "title and style of architect." The bench, taking note of the scheme of the Act, observed:
It is evident that the legislature did not intend to create a prohibition on the practice of architecture and associated activities by unregistered individuals. As opposed to the case of physicians or surgeons under the Indian Medical Council Act or advocates under the Advocates Act, the legislature consciously chose to employ a less stringent measure in the case of architects, merely prohibiting unregistered individuals from using the "title and style" of architect. It is not for this Court to delve into why the legislature made this choice.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Architects Act makes it evident that the legislature was undoubtedly concerned with the risk of unqualified persons undertaking the construction of buildings leading to costly and dangerous buildings. In guarding against this risk, the legislature first set out a minimum standard of statutorily recognised qualifications to be met before an individual is designated as an architect under the Architects Act. This is done by Sections 14, 15 and 17 of the Act. Next, the legislature created two classes of individuals: the first class consisted of registered architects satisfying these minimum qualifications and a second class of unregistered individuals who did not satisfy these minimum qualifications. This is the effect of Sections 2(a), 17, 23 and 35 of the Architects Act. Crucially, the legislature chose to define an "architect" as an individual registered under the Architects Act and not as an individual practicing architecture or any cognate activities. Thus, the legislature limited the regulatory regime created by the Architects Act to the first class of individuals. In protecting the public from the risk of the second class, untrained individuals, the legislature had two options: first it could bar this second class of individuals from engaging in the profession altogether (as it had done with physicians and advocates); or alternatively it could prevent this second class of individuals from calling themselves "Architects". The Statement of Objects and Reasons makes it clear that the legislature chose the second option and in fact went to great lengths to clarify that choice. The legislature stated that with the passing of the legislation, it shall be unlawful for an unregistered individual to "designate himself" as an architect. Further, it is expressly stated that the legislation protects the "title" of architect but does not grant registered architects an exclusive right to undertake the design, supervision and construction of buildings. Other cognate professions or unregistered individuals may continue to carry out these activities provided that they do not refer to themselves as "'architects".
The Court also said that it would be unreasonable from a regulatory perspective to ask all professions touching upon the construction of new structures to obtain a degree in architecture. Taking note of the activities undertaken by Architects, the bench said:
These activities are undertaken by architects but are also carried out by architects in concert with a range of other actors including draughtspersons, builders, engineers, and designers. If the legislature were to impose an absolute prohibition against unregistered individuals from "practicing architecture' there would be considerable confusion as to what activities formed the practice of architecture and what did not. It may have resulted in a host of other legitimate professionals being barred from engaging in the design, supervision and construction of buildings merely because they were not registered under the Architects Act. Further, as the learned Attorney General of India brought to our attention, these varied professions form essential cogs in the overall machinery of construction in India and the design, supervision and construction of new structures cannot be done by architects alone. It would be unreasonable from a regulatory perspective to ask all professions touching upon the construction of new structures to obtain a degree in architecture.
Unregistered individuals prohibited from designating themselves or referring to themselves as "architects".
Answering the second question, the bench disagreed with the High Court and observed that Section 37 prohibits unregistered individuals from designating themselves or referring to themselves as "architects". It added:
While we have held that Section 37 does not prohibit the practice of architecture by unregistered individuals, it certainly does prohibit unregistered individuals from using the "title and style" of architect. Under the scheme of the Architects Act, only individuals possessing the statutorily recognised minimum educational qualifications can apply for registration as an "Architect" under the Act. Registration as an architect under the statute is thus a guarantee of possessing certain minimum educational qualifications. Section 37 prohibits unregistered individuals from designating themselves or referring to themselves as "architects". The consequence of this regulatory regime is that when an individual is called an "Architect" a reasonable person would assume that they are a registered architect under the Architects Act and as a consequence possess the requisite educational qualifications and specialised knowledge associated with architects.
The Court held that NOIDA cannot promote or recruit individuals who do not hold a degree in architecture recognised by the Architects Act to a post that uses the title or style of "architect".
If a government post is titled "Architect" or "Associate Architect", such a person certainly uses the title and style of "architect" and consequently there is a reasonable assumption that such a person is registered under the Architects Act and holds a degree in architecture recognised by the Act. This assumption finds statutory backing in Section 35 of the Architects Act which provides that any reference to an architect in any other law shall be deemed to mean an architect registered under the Architects Act. To promote an individual who does not possess a degree in architecture recognised by the Act to a post titled "Architect", "Associate Architect" or of a similar style using the title or style of "architect" would effectively violate the prohibition on the use of title contained in Section 37 of the Architects Act.
Case name: Council for Architecture vs. Mukesh Goyal
Case no.: Civil Appeal No 1819 of 2020
Coram: Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi