Residents miffed as Navi Mumbai society board members hire bouncers for AGM meeting
EXCLUSIVE >> Cops are a regular sight at one of country's largest colonies in Navi Mumbai, which recently also hired bouncers, as residents accuse directors of massive financial irregularity
Tall, burly bouncers are no longer restricted to pubs and bars, it seems. In the name of taming uncooperative members, the board of a large housing complex in Navi Mumbai recently went overboard, by hiring 10 bouncers during its recent Annual General Body Meeting (AGM). And this has not gone down well with the residents.
Kaustubh Bhutala, chairman of NRI Residents' Welfare Association, told mid-day, "Unlike a regular housing society, which is governed by the bye-laws and Maharashtra Co-operative Societies Act and Rules, the Seawoods Estate NRI Complex-Phase I in Nerul is run by the Seawood Estate Limited (SEL), registered under the Companies Act and run by the elected board of directors, who then elect the chairman; each flat owner is a shareholder in the company, and the shareholders' contributions of monthly charges (paid every quarter) is the company's income, which runs into Rs 9-10 crore a year."
The NRI Complex in Seawoods
In Maharashtra, SEL is the largest such company, spread across 52 acres with 46 buildings since the last 21 years. For the last two months though, all is not well at the complex, where silent protests and candlelight marches by residents, holding placards against the SEL board of directors, have become common. Worse still, the NRI police, too, have become frequent visitors at the complex.
"The residents have raised concerns about financial irregularities and board members misusing their powers and positions," said a resident. Bhutala said, "For 21 years, residents have trusted the board. If they were unhappy, board members gracefully stepped down. The present board members, despite the annual budget getting rejected in AGM and EOGM (Extra Ordinary General Meeting), have refused to resign."
The NRI Sagari police station has received numerous complaints from the complex. An officer said, "We have tried to intervene and resolve the internal conflict between the shareholders and the board but, unfortunately, haven't been successful so far."
Bouncers and police personnel at the AGM at NRI Complex
Tip of the iceberg
The muttering among residents began in September, soon after the board of directors proposed collection of a whopping Rs 23.5 crore towards "major repairs and a painting project", which the residents not only vehemently opposed but also raised serious doubts, puncturing the structural audit report that was presented to justify the board's decision.
Bhutala said, "When residents protested, a private structural consultant was asked to present his side on the report he'd submitted to SEL. He claimed a team of four-five engineers visited the complex for 45 days and did NDT (Non-Destructive Testing) as well as Half-Cell potential test (used to determine the probability of corrosion within the rebar in reinforced concrete structures), which was far from reality."
Residents during a candle-light protest against the board of directors on the society premises
Bhutala alleged the consultant had no answer when shown gate entry register and admin register logs, which only mentioned entry of some labourers for a few days, with no heavy-duty equipment brought in.
A resident claimed, "All this has been done to misguide us with photographs of a few areas that need repairs. They are trying to show as if the entire complex needs work."
Another resident, S S Mathur, said, "We have a mixed crowd residing in this complex, many of whom are senior citizens, pensioners or those dependent on their children. This would add to their financial burden."
'Board lacks transparency'
According to Bhutala, residents recently held a silent protest and handed over their petition, signed by more than 250 of them, to the board to conduct an audit for understanding whether or not funds were properly utilised, but the board seems least interested. A letter dated October 14 was sent to the chairman and board of directors, demanding a review of SEL accounts by a certified forensic auditor.
Bhutala added, "We have not received any response from the board members; the more they delay or refuse permission to conduct the audit, the more they are betraying shareholders' trust."
The other side
When mid-day called Mukund Raj Kulkarni, one of the SEL directors, he said, "How did you get my number? I'm not supposed to have telephonic discussion on this. You may fix an appointment at our office..." Tries to reach Krishnamurthy Suryanarayan, director of SEL, didn't yield result.
However, the board's response via a resident committee on "major repairs and painting" meeting on October 28 states: "The consequences of the types of cracks in building were discussed. It was agreed immediate repairs is imperative. With every passing day reinforced concrete members will deteriorate, as exposed steel corrode more and more. There are risks to life and property (sic).
"Agenda item no 2, on the ways to engage the residents... in spite of announcing their building's inspection, very few come forward to even try and understand what the condition of their building is."
Residents' rip into audit report
- Less than 10 per cent buildings designed by Hafeez Contractor show corrosion.
- A single consultant, who is not even a public/private limited company, has been shortlisted to do work worth Rs 23.50 crore.
- No mention of which building requires what type of work.
- No details of any chemicals that were to be used for treatment.
- Most buildings were painted in 2008-09; report, however, states painting work is 12 years old.
- Report does not include detailed list of NDT testing done - building, location of column/beam, the test carried out and reading.
Commodore K K Singh,
Indian Navy (retd)
'If SEL has been formed to maintain and run the affairs of such a huge premises, all I expect from the board members is transparency and taking residents' views into consideration before taking their decisions, which directly impact our pockets'
a management consultant
'The board should not sit on a pedestal; it should understand that shareholders want transparency and accountability. They (shareholders) are asking for details of the money, and they have every right to, as they have contributed to the company to ensure that the place they call home is maintained'
'The company has compromised shareholders' interest by deviating from established practices and law. Hence, there's a trust deficit now, which has led to shareholders' legitimate demand for a forensic audit of balance sheet'
'We had designed RCC towers taking into consideration all architectural requirements to ensure they stand strong for a 50-75 years, subject to regular maintenance. But the structures today look disfigured and mutilated'
'CIDCO made a mistake by forming SEL, which, in my view, is illegal. It should have formed a cooperative housing society... Hiring bouncers and getting cops for AGMs is not expected from any board'
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