There is an alarming rise in the number of disputes between Co-Operative Housing Society (CHS) members and their Managing Committees. An activist and expert on what to do when the building becomes a boxing ring
It is battlefield buildings as Managing Committee members and those not on the committee, are often embroiled in a war of words and mayhem ensues at meetings. Here, Co-Operative Housing Society (CHS) activist J B Patel says the roots of the committee vs. member deadlock lie in massive ego clashes and an ignorance of rules and regulations on both sides.
Q: Co-operative Housing Society (CHS) members and Managing Committee members are often locked in what one could call combat. What are the primary reasons for this?
Ans: Both CHS members and Managing Committee (MC) members are unaware of proper ways of doing things for smooth management of Co-operative Societies. So, both the sides are to be blamed. However, the blame on the Managing Committee should be more, as they are the ones who have opted to get elected on the MC and have volunteered to work for the society.
It is their duty to study MCS Bye Laws, MCS Acts, 1960 and MCS Rules, 1961 and function accordingly. When they do not study the laws, and do not work within the ambit of the law, they start working in an autocratic fashion. They behave like landlords and sometimes like goondas.
>> Members in general are not bothered about the laws although they are entitled to seek any information and copies of documents from MC U/s.32 (1) & (2) of MCS Act, 1960. Managing Committee members egotistically feel that members have no right to question their working. In case of disputes, they use unlawful and unfair methods, such as not accepting the members' correspondence, not replying. Some Managing Committees stop sending maintenance bills to members and later on attempt to declare him/her a defaulter.
>> Then, there is also the sheepish behaviour of a majority CHS members. It is a widely known fact that 80 per cent of CHS members do not know what they are signing for. CHS members will usually sign anything that is circulated. Knowing this, committees collect signatures from the members even after the meetings, even if a member has not attended a meeting at all. (If anyone conducts an experiment and asks the members if they are willing to sign the same document under oath, they may be amazed to find that most people will refuse to sign!)
Q: What are the top issues on which there are disagreements and deadlocks?
Ans: Proposed redevelopment of societies is a widespread cause of disputes. Many Managing Committees enter into collusion and underhand dealings with builders and redevelopers, who engage in underhand dealings with individual Managing Committee members. Builders and Managing Committees misrepresent matters before the society residents, deny them their fundamental rights, create disputes on petty matters and file false complaints against persons opposing redevelopment.
Even in daily functioning of societies, fights about parking leakage in flats and repairs are common problems. As the walls, ceilings and floors of flats are shared, such disputes arise, and must be amicably resolved. However, the uncooperative attitude of some members and also high handedness by the members of Managing Committee complicate these problems instead of solving them. Disputes over issues like irritation caused by children playing in the compound and making noise, or by the presence of pets, is another major problem.
Q: There are societies in which members hanker to be on the committee because of certain advantages... what might these be?
Ans: There was a time when it was difficult to find a member to work for the society in the Managing Committee. In my own society where I entered as a member in 2007, recently the Chairman announced in one of the General Body Meetings that there was never any election held prior to 2008 although the society was formed in 1982. The Managing Committee members were requested, or rather, 'forced' to form a Committee. In the very same society, today there are quarrels and fights to get into the Committee. This is largely thanks to Era of Redevelopment. In recent decades, the Managing Committees of large buildings and compounds are handling funds of lakhs and crores of rupees. There is scope for corruption and earning illegitimate incomes "on the side" by favouring a specific builder or contractor in the bidding process, especially at the time of redevelopment, major repairs or repainting.
Q: Society members must also realise that the Management Committee members are not their servants. They also give their time working on a pro bono basis.
Ans: Yes, it is true that Managing Committee members are rendering voluntary service, and their services are not appreciated by many uncooperative people living in the society. Most CHS members do not bother about the society's daily working, and either don't bother or hesitate to ask questions. However, the other side of the coin is that when residents start questioning the Committee members and try to hold them accountable, they do not take it in a democratic spirit. Instead of showing their willingness to be held accountable by giving a satisfactory answer, they act in a non-transparent manner, and retaliate in various ways by victimising the person who dared to question them.
Q: What kind of power does the CHS committee have? After all aren't members of the committee part of the CHS itself?
Ans: Although CHS members enjoy equal status vis- -vis managing committee members, problems begin when the latter start seeing themselves as being more important. If you visit any Assistant Registrar / Deputy Registrar's office, you will find that 90 per cent complaints have cropped up due to egoism. These could have been solved at CHS level itself if the Committees had handled the problems in a proper manner.
Q: Where can members go if the committee and they are at a deadlock? Who can they approach?
Ans: When a member does not get justice or solace from the Committee itself, he sees the office of Assistant Registrar or Cooperatives Registrar (AR/DR) as saviours. He can also approach the Federation of Cooperative Societies, the Cooperative Court, the office of the Cooperatives Commissioner, and the Consumer Court. Most people approach the AR/DR first. The process of grievance-redressal begins at the AR/DR, and can include any or all the above-named authorities. It can also include the Minister of Cooperative Societies.
The Managing Committee however considers it as "harassment" when an aggrieved member seeks justice from any of these forums. Managing Committee members live under the mistaken notion that the General Body is the supreme body for resolving all grievances. With the support of the General Body, which usually consists of people who act as if they are deaf, dumb and blind, the Managing Committee tries to victimize and punish the member who dares to complain.
Q: There are differences of opinion in a family too -- then, naturally there are going to be differences of opinion in a CHS too. Is this natural?
Ans: It is natural. But the head of the family has to think in the larger interest of the family, and not in an authoritarian way. All the efforts should be made to resolve the differences at society's level itself. However, three crucial differences between the family structure and the structure of Co-Operative Societies should be borne in mind:
(i)There is no legal requirement for decisions of families to be well documented and supported with paperwork. However, even routine decisions of the Co-Operative Society must be documented and signed by a responsible person.
(ii)The decisions taken in families are often arrived at in arbitrary or authoritarian ways. However, the decisions taken in Co-Operative Societies must always, without exception, be arrived at through democratic processes, meetings etc... for which proper agenda and minutes must be maintained.
(iii)Routine expenditures incurred by family members are rarely written down. In Co-Operative Societies, however, records must be maintained for every expenditure, whether large or small, and these have to be produced whenever any CHS member demands to see it.
Q: Do you think individuals have the time/money to approach higher authorities when they have a problem with the committee?
Ans: No. In most cases, the erring Managing Committee members win the battle due to the disputing CHS member's lack of time, knowledge and money. The Managing Committee spends from the society's (members) funds, the individual has to spend from his own pocket. We have a forum (RTIUnion@googlegroups.com) to help and support such aggrieved members in fighting their battles.
Q: Some of the Annual General Meetings (AGM) of CHS resemble mini battlefields. There are wars going on at these meetings...
Ans: Yes. It is true. We suggest a video shooting of the General Body Meetings or AGMs. This has been proved useful in many Societies where AGMs are very acrimonious. If the directives for Co-Operative Societies are followed, the meetings will be very peaceful.
Q: There is also the prospect that in certain buildings, nobody wants to be part of the committee as all the work falls on the shoulders of the committee, with other members taking little part in it...
Ans: Members have to realise that the Society where he/she stays is their own society and they belong to the Society. If this feeling does not prevail, then there is a provision under the Society's acts where such societies will be managed with the help of Administrator appointed by the AR/DR of the respective ward. This alternative is highly undesirable.
J B Patel is a Right to Information (RTI) and Co-Operative Housing Society (CHS) activistWhere can you go?