Archaeologists and Historians tell us that the East is the Cradle of Civilisation. Civil Engineering principles and practices have been the backbone of society, enabling and empowering its web or tissue of social interaction and trade. The earliest body of knowledge regarding the rules for planning and constructing habitats, temples, etc. in India are believed to be the Vastu Shastras. The Indus Valley and Harappan Civilisations were also, reportedly, founded on the principles of the Vastu Shastras. Written laws for the strength of structures and soundness of construction are to be found in Arthashastra written by Kautilya (c. 350-275 BCE). In the Middle East they were embodied in the Code of Hammurabi, around 1762 BC.

The word ‘engineer’ was originally associated with ‘military engineering’. It was only when the word was used to refer to public works which were non-military works that the term ‘civil engineer’ was introduced. Initially all engineering was covered under the term ‘civil engineering’ as opposed to ‘military engineering’. Gradually, with the increasing size and complexity of projects, other disciplines of engineering emerged over the years. With them their codes of practice also developed to cover the new materials and technologies.

Growth of Engineering Consultancy in India

Prior to Independence, large scale works were the prerogatives of the government. They were executed as per the designs and standard practices of engineering adopted by the various Public Works Departments. Initially the works were mostly for buildings, roads and allied services. Later on, new departments for Electricity, Irrigation, Aviation, Shipping, etc. were created once the works in those increased. The engineers in the services of the various governments who were involved with the projects could be deemed to be consulting engineers since the then landscape did not encourage/ promote private projects. Private construction was mostly based on thumb-rule and standard local practice. Even the engineers in government service at present could be deemed to be consulting engineers.

The genesis of consulting engineering services in India dates back to the period soon after Independence, when the country institutionalized a program of planned industrial development. At the onset of 1950s, projects in India were implemented on a turn-key basis by overseas engineering organizations with limited involvement of the Indian consulting engineers.

For a little over a decade, the consultancy organizations were centred around an individual or a small group of professionals committed to delivering engineering excellence. Gradually, multi-disciplinary organizations and conglomerates operating on systems-approach emerged. That was also a time when science and technology were drawing great attention since they were imperative to deepen the understanding of the field and thereby building indigenous capabilities rather than relying on developed economies.

As a burgeoning economy, coalescing and fostering in-house capabilities for end-to-end designing and implementing of engineering projects was sacrosanct to further the industrial development in the country and make it truly independent. This catalyzed a transition process with the emergence of consulting engineering organizations in the 1950s and 1960s, in both the private and the public sectors.

To name a few:

Public Sector Private Sector
  • Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)
  • Bharat Heavy Electricals
  • Engineers India Ltd. (EIL)
  • Engineering Projects (India) (EPI)
  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)
  • National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC)
  • National Industrial Development Corporation (NIDC)
  • National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC)
  • Metallurgical and Engineering Consultants (India) Ltd. (MECON)
  • Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS)
  • The Public Works Department of the Central, State Governments and Union Territories
  • Other Government Authorities, Bodies & Departments also come under this category
  • Ballardi Thomson & Mathews
  • Bhagawati & Kumbhani
  • Consulting Engineering Services (India)
  • Chatterjee & Polk
  • Dalal Consultants
  • Development Consultants Pvt. Ltd. (earlier Kuljian & Co)
  • Holtec Consulting Pvt. Ltd. 
  • Mahendra Raj Consultants
  • Maneck Dastur & Associates
  • Mehta Parikh & Sheth
  • M N Dastur & Co
  • R L Nene
  • R N Vakil
  • STUP Consultants
  • Shirish Patel & Associates
  • Tata Consulting Engineers
  • Tata Consultancy Services

The inception of Association of Consulting Engineers (India) (ACE(I)) was an evolutionary need for the individual engineering consultants. The existing individual practices and engagements were reaching their physical potential limits and to overcome that it was considered that it was time to consolidate efforts and also bring in greater semblance in the practices. Taking a cue from this thought, seven desirous engineers initiated the effort to set up the Association of Consulting Engineers (India), (ACE(I)) – focused on strengthening the profession in India as well as overseeing the larger interest while fostering client – consultant relationships. Thus, it was formed in 1959, registered in January 1960 and headquartered in New Delhi. The Association comprised small and medium sized consulting engineers, who were neither aligned to any Public Sector organizations nor to any industrial or construction organisation. It was an Association of “Independent Consulting Engineers”.

Recognising the important role that the consultancy firms had to play in the development of the country as a whole, an expert panel set up by the Planning Commission, suggested in early 1970s, that an all India body of consulting engineers should be set up to foster healthy growth of the profession in the country. At the initiative of Mr. M. S. Pathak, then Member – Planning Commission, a meeting of consulting engineers together with some senior officials from Planning Commission, Ministry of Industry & Development and Development Banks was called in Bombay and held in the conference hall of ICICI sometime in late 1975. Mr. M.S. Pathak chaired the meeting and mooted the idea of formation of an association of consulting engineers at the national level, which was welcomed by everyone. The signatories to the formation of the association and its memorandum and articles of association were 15 leading consulting engineering firms.

Mr. R.V. Raman, then Secretary, Industrial Development, Government of India, took charge of the work related to the formation and registration of the association and in early 1976 the National Association of Consulting Engineers (NACE) was born with Mr. R.V. Raman himself as the first President of the association. Mr. Raman after about 2 years handed over the charge to Mr. Kan Mariwalla of NIDC, who took over as the President for a term of 2 years. The others to take over the mantle subsequently were Dr. Tuhin Roy, Chem-Met, Mr. Umesh Shrivastava, Holtec Consulting and Mr. S. Palande, Humphreys & Glasgow. Others to follow as President were Mr. S. Chatterjee, MECON, Mr. Sudhir Dhawan, Tractebel, Mr. M. W. Goklany, Desein, Mr. S. Ghosh, CES and so it went on with 2 years terms.

From inception of NACE, until the Consultancy Development Centre (CDC) moved into the India Habitat Centre, NACE was functioning in association with the Association of Indian Engineering Industry (AIEI), now Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and operated from their office in Jorbagh, New Delhi. Mr. Tarun Das, then Secretary of AIEI, who later became Director General of CII and subsequently their Chief Mentor, officiated as NACE’s Secretary. Ms. Tara Laroia of AIEI functioned as Assistant Secretary for NACE and maintained all its records, which were subsequently shifted to India Habitat Centre under the charge of Mr. R.K. Abrol.

While Mr. Umesh Shrivastava was the President of NACE, a dialogue emanated between Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO), NACE and Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) with the objective of forming another association to take care of overall development of all kinds of consulting activities including management consulting. Mr. Chandrakant from FIEO, Dr. Varadarajan, Dr. K. V. Swaminathan and Dr. S. P. Agarwal from DSIR together with NACE took a lot of interest in the formation of the Consultancy Development Centre (CDC).

In its keenness to explore overseas market with a view to project the image of Indian Engineering Consultancy and open the doors to earn valuable foreign exchange for the country, NACE joined hands with CII, FIEO and The Exim Bank from time to time and mounted consultancy missions abroad.

In 1995 a dialogue was initiated between NACE and Association of Consulting Engineers (ACE) to join hands to strengthen the consultancy movement in the country as a result of which Consulting Engineers Association of India (CEAI) was born in 1996.

The consulting engineering practice in India progressed from just buildings and roads to encompass airports, ports & harbours, thermal & hydro power plants, nuclear facilities, oil & gas complexes, chemical & industrial plants, mining, minerals and ferrous & non-ferrous plants, space, etc. The consulting engineering profession has evolved and demonstrated not just growing maturity in its capability and demonstrated ability to rise to the occasion and deliver the best but also leadership in taking greater ownership of widening their horizon of capabilities in new fields as and when the need arose. Indian consulting engineers are being engaged directly by bilateral and multi-lateral development banks (MBDs), national and international, in competition with consultants from developed countries.

Today, the consulting engineering profession in India provides world-class standards for multi-disciplinary complex and large projects as well as state-of-the-art solutions for new and emerging market segments. They are keeping pace with the latest digital developments in their field and even innovating and developing new software in-house where necessary. 

Indian Scientists and Engineers have demonstrated expertise in the Space and Nuclear sectors that they can rise to the occasion to develop and provide services and products that are second to none.

Many engineering consultants from India are also engaged in and contributing to various international projects overseas.

Mr. Umesh Shrivastava & Mr. A P Mull