The role of engineers in leading and driving the course of the country's development needs no overemphasis. Although success stories of engineers are not celebrated much in the society, their failures get attention and are discussed seriously, because the social and environmental impact of their failings are so deep and far-reaching.
But if we ask whether this seriousness has influenced Kerala in the field of engineering education or industry, the answer will not be very encouraging. When floods hit the lives of people here twice, what got shattered were not only roads and bridges, but also the faith about the entire specturum of construction models we have been following for long. When there is a spectacle of roads getting damaged, and of building constructions going on out of sync with the climate or nature or even doing harm to them, should that be blamed only on corruption? Or is there any role played by construction planning and lack of efficiency of the experts? Questions are therefore being raised and gaining strength whether the treasury and the public are having to pay the price for the laxity of engineers and their knowledge that do not get updated.
The ideas and warnings put forward by 'metroman' E Sreedharan while inaugurating the Engineers Day at UL Cyber Park throw light on such thoughts. He said that values and morality are vital in engineering and many foul-ups happen in the absence of engineers observing morality in their profession. The collapse of bridges in Palarivattom, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkatta were results of engineers functioning without upholding values. The reason for one and a half lac people dying in road accidents every year, is sloppy engineering. He said with candour that according to the national survey, only 20 per cent of engineers are competent for the profession. There are no benchmarks to measure the quality level of engineers; nor is there any legal mechanism to catch the mistakes that are repeated.
In the current hierarchy, the position of engineers in discharge of responsibility is below that of politicians and bureaucracy. This cannot be called entirely wrong from the perspective of democracy and administration. But, as technocrats, what they should do is not obey what those above them ask them to do, but muster the professional strength to guide and lead them. Competent engineers are born when scientific knowledge and constructive insights - that also integrate factors like climate and social conditions - come together. And if they also are imbued with morality and social commitment, then the administrative leadership will not be able to supersede their file notes. Hence the long repeated demand that their syllabus should, in addition to the technical content, also impart lessons in humanitarian, social, moral and environmental areas too. From this year on, all engineering colleges have to include compulsory lessons in humanities following the IIT model. But, the current curriculum does not give due weightage to the differences and natural diversity of the country. Only when that is also redesigned, can a solution be found for the proficiency deficit highlighted by Sreedharan.
Once engineers join a government service, there are no mandatory training or knowledge upgrade plans for them. And this when around the world, scores of creative experiments and findings ceaselessly keep happening. Many lead the construction of bridges and roads without even knowing that their own knowledge has become outdated. Engineers who do not upgrade themselves become roadblocks in development and enemies of the society and nature. Only when the government institutes mechanisms to impart knowledge and training in tune with the times,, will quality construction be achieved in the state. Even in sectors where training and proficiency have been achieved, the government has to formulate precise criteria to make appointments and ransfers. Further, engineers who forget about their moral responsibility to provide safety to the society, should be kept out of government machinery. Only then can a foundation be laid for the idea of transparent and efficient engineering put forward by metroman.