Mumbai: 80-yr-old battles alone with society, government over 2010 fine
Lily Coutinho faces the threat of her house being attached after recovery notice demands Rs 1.07L maintenance dues; widow says society extracting fine for an extension she had put outside her flat
AN 80-year-old woman has been slapped with a recovery proceedings notice by the Deputy Registrar of Cooperative Societies for alleged nonpayment of maintenance, warning her of attachment of property if the notice — demanding over Rs 1 lakh — is not complied with.
Mahim resident Lily Coutinho, a widow, is battling her society and the authorities over the notice served in the second week of October by the Special Recovery & Sales Officer, of the Mumbai District Cooperative Housing Federation. She claims that she has been paying the maintenance in time and the notice is actually a means to extract from her a Rs 25,000 fine from 2010.
"I have been paying the maintenance in time, even though the society has not issued bills since January 2019. I recently paid the quarterly maintenance (October-December) of R9,432 and I have bank statements to prove it. My objection has always been over R25,000 levied for no fault of mine and the 21 per cent interest. I protested and refused to pay the fine, which today is being shown as defaulted payment and interest of 21 per cent," Coutinho said.
Coutinho had fixed a metallic angle (extension) on the exterior wall of the building sometime in 2010 to prevent cars from parking right in front of her ground-floor flat. She claimed that cars, almost touching her balcony's grill, led to rodents entering her house. The smoke from the ignition too would cause problems. mid-day had reported about the Rs 25,000 fine in its May 17, 2010 report 'Rs 30K fine for 12-inch bracket'. Coutinho claims that the metal extension was stolen within a month, for which she had registered a police complaint.
Back in 2010, the society's then-Secretary A Apte had said, "The penalty amount was not paid to the society and so, interest was levied on the unpaid dues. The society imposed the fine in February 2010 but the same was not cleared due to which another fine was imposed on the Coutinhos"
The Deputy Registrar of Cooperative Societies G/N Ward, Sachin Ghodke, acting on an application by Mahim Jolly Co-operative Housing Society, passed an order concluding that "Respondent (Coutinho) is in arrears of the society's dues," and approved a Recovery Certificate for Rs 1,07,117. The amount includes the recovery amount of Rs 92,347, interest of Rs 11,960 for the period of June 30, 2018 to September 30, 2019 and other miscellaneous charges.
Attempts to contact Ghodke did not yield any results. Shankar Malhari, Special Recovery and Sales Officer of the Mumbai District Co-operative Housing Federation Ltd confirmed the issuing of the Demand Notice.
Coutinho shows the spot where she installed the metal extension
"My duty is the execution of the award issued by the Deputy Registrar. The society has obtained a recovery certificate from the Deputy Registrar and as per my order, the flat occupant has 60 days' time to appeal before the District Deputy Officer, after depositing 50 per cent of the amount due. Failing which, the recovery officer can attach property over nonpayment," Malhari said.
Dr R V Tripathi, the present secretary of Coutinho's society, said, "Coutinho has not been paying maintenance for a year-and-a-half. Also, some fine was levied by the chairman almost a decade ago which is still unpaid. We asked Coutinho for a discussion but she never acknowledged our request. Registered post sent to her by the society was never accepted, for which we have proof. Ultimately, we had to approach the Deputy Registrar for recovery certificate proceedings."
"We have given all papers to the Deputy Registrar and do not wish to comment," said the society's present chairman, Vilas Kabre.
Coutinho countered Tripathi by saying that she cannot climb up to the terrace for society meetings. "I was not allowed to vote recently on the grounds that I am a defaulter. My request to send my son as a proxy was not accepted either."
Coutinho used to be an office-bearer in the society a few years ago. But her position was contested before the Deputy Registrar by the building's residents. An election supervised by the Deputy Registrar was conducted in 2018 and a new committee was appointed. It was then that Coutinho allegedly stop paying maintenance.
Senior Advocate Clement Lobo, who is representing Lilly, said, "Lilly has not been given a chance to be heard. The Deputy Registrar's order is arbitrary and whimsical. In addition, the order was passed with all dates for the hearing scheduled within one month. This is not the usual practice."
"There are Bombay High Court judgments stating that recovery proceedings are initiated only for maintenance charges and for any definite dues payable to the society. The R25,000 fine is in violation of the society's bye-laws which mandate only a Rs 5,000 fine per anum.
"The Deputy Registrar's office did not even furnish the proceeding details to Coutinho until she filed an RTI to get the same. We will appeal against the recovery notice, and since the recovery certificate has been issued under Section 101 of the Maharashtra Co-operative Societies (MCS) Act, we are supposed to pay 50 per cent of the due amount, for no fault of Coutinho. This is being done to harass and humiliate an elderly, helpless widow."
Advocate Vinod Sampat, an expert in co-operative law, said, "Putting a metal bracket outside the premises amounts to unauthorised construction, the penalty for which is five times the maintenance with retrospective effect. However, in this case, the said society (Mahim Jolly Cottage CHS Ltd) appears to have clubbed maintenance with service charges, which is incorrect and a violation. Therefore, the society cannot levy penalty."
Sampat added, "The penalty is a case of abuse of power. However, if the society has passed an AGM resolution to levy penalty, the aggrieved member must challenge it in the cooperative court on the grounds of oppression of minority by majority. The other ground would be favour being shown to a member at the expense of another member who is being harassed."
Deputy Registrar's order
In his order dated March 29, 2019, a copy of which is with mid-day, the Deputy Registrar Cooperative Societies, G/N Ward Sachin Ghodake has said:
"On taking into consideration application submitted by the applicant society, documents on record and written say of the respondent (Lily Coutinho) the comments and conclusions are —
1) The Respondent above named was formally sent notices and given necessary and adequate opportunity for hearing and submitting say in the interest of justice. On scrutiny of accounts and other documents submitted by the applicant society and enquiry, I am convinced that the Respondent is in arrears of the society's dues.
2) On perusal of then documents and extract of account submitted by the Applicant society, it is seen Respondent is in arrears of Rs 92,347. As I am convinced that it is necessary to issue Recovery Certificate for recovery of the said amount, I am passing order as under —
Respondent to pay the Applicant society
a) Claim (recoverable amount) Rs 92,347
b) Application fee and costs Rs 2,310 — (Expense incurred by the Applicant — stamp affixed on the application Rs 1,810, enquiry fee and expenses Rs 500 — total Rs 2,310)
Total amt — Rs 94,657
Plus interest at the rate of 21 per cent from June 30, 2018, on the amount of Rs 92,347, till the said amount is fully paid. However, if the Respondent has made any payment to the society after filing this application, that amount should be deducted and the balance amount be recovered from the Respondent.
I further order that the above amount due from the Respondent be recovered by adopting the procedure adopted for the recovery of arrears of land revenue as per provisions of Maharashtra Land Revenue Code 1956.
Rs 92,347 Recover amount demanded
Rs 11,960 Interest from demanded
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