Residents Welfare Association can be extremely arbitrary
Those who used to see Doordarshan in the 80s would remember a serial called Ados Pados featuring actor Amol Palekar, the archetype of Indian middle-class life. In that serial, there were a bunch of families of different communities living in a housing society and facing a different issue in each episode that was all amicably resolved at the end of 30 minutes. Unfortunately, real life in the new century is not imitating art.
The modern urban form of residential complexes involves the presence of a Resident Welfare Association (RWA) to be created to collect funds and utilise them for solving common issues faced by the residents. The Real Estate Act (Regulation and Development) Act of 2016 mandates that an RWA should be formed within three months of “a majority of allottees having booked their flat”.
Any 10 members can come together to form an RWA and if more are interested in joining it, elections have to be held. If they collect maintenance fees, then they have to compulsorily get themselves registered. Ideally, builders should ensure the formation of the RWA and enable a smooth transition of management from them to the residents, but that rarely happens as the builder is loath to let go. The transition from builder-management to resident-management is typically difficult and hard-won by the residents, even involving court battles. And then, the disharmony continues, thereafter among the residents, right from the election of the RWA, that is invariably ridden with competitiveness and underhand politics.
After the elections, soon cracks emerge and there are dramatic resignations or at least overt disagreements within the managing committee. Even if the RWA is united in its stance, a faction of residents will oppose its views. The sources of potential conflict are numerous. It can range from barring certain communities/nationalities as tenants to moral policing about women visitors to male homes as happened in Gurgaon recently, to imposing vegetarianism. The worst hit are tenants who sometimes find that they have no problems with their own landlords but are at loggerheads with the RWA members.
If we look around, no matter which city you live in, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to conclude that the Residents-RWA relationship is a match made in hell. As I write, in my building there’s an issue of the RWA harassing all domestic helpers to pay up Rs 500 for a police verification which was already done earlier in the year, but the members want it repeated.
Last month, a lady resident went from home to home seeking support against the RWA which asked her to pay fees for using the clubhouse to conduct dance classes for resident children. “I already pay a maintenance fee every month!” was her protest. A few days later in Mumbai, in the building where my mother lives, a resident stormed into the maintenance office when I was there. He was red with rage that the RWA was not monitoring the proper use of building facilities, as his neighbour who had hired the community hall for a wedding function had not cleared up by 9 am the next day. An uncle in the RWA of the small 15 flat housing complex in Trichy recounts how hard it is to make residents contribute towards community functions.
RWAs can be notoriously arbitrary in their rules, disallowing in some cases even pets into the society’s garden. But there are ways of recourse for residents who wish to protest against the RWA’s rules. They can, as a first step, give a written complaint to the Managing Committee of the RWA, following which the matter can be discussed in a General body meeting. If the issue is serious enough, the resident can approach the Registrar of Societies who has the right to cancel the registration of the association.
As a last resort, residents can go to court. But more and more, online ranting and raging against RWAs has become the norm and even proved faster and more efficient in arriving at solutions and settlements.
It would be wrong, however, to assume that RWAs are the villains of the urban residential landscape. They have their uses as an intermediary body between residents and the local authorities. They also help forge community bonds by organising common events on important days, which as individual residents we would not have the time to do. Also, residents can sometimes indeed cause neighbourly nuisance value by being too noisy or obtrusive or dirty, all of which needs censure.