Housing activists ask state government to set rules for cooperative housing society elections, which have been put on hold for nearly two years
File photo of Jal Padma Society in Goregaon. Representation pic
If Bihar assembly and MLC elections can be held amid the COVID-19 pandemic in which over one lakh people have been killed, then why can't the cooperative societies in the state conduct the elections for fewer than 250 members, ask housing activists.
Elections in more than 83,000 cooperative societies have been on hold since the past two years. In September, a government resolution (GR) was issued stating that the election has been postponed till December 2020. It added that the delay can be extended for another six months, till June 2021. And this has become a matter of concern, as major decisions on redevelopment, repair, change of security guards, filling up vacant posts due to death or resignation have gone for a toss.
Maharashtra Societies Welfare Association (MahaSeWa) on October 3 wrote a letter to Cooperation Minister Balasaheb Patil, requesting to publish final election rules for Cooperative Housing Societies.
Advocate Vinod Sampat, founder-president of Cooperative Societies Residents Association
CA Ramesh Prabhu, founder-chairman of MahaSeWa, said, "The elections in Bihar are being conducted. In fact, Parliament and assembly are also functioning. It is unfortunate that the small grass root democratic set up are unable to hold the election without going out of their premises. We fail to understand the step-motherly treatment to the small cooperative housing societies in the state."
"There are over 83,000 societies where buildings need major repairs or redevelopment. They are becoming dilapidated and dangerous to live in, but the societies are not able to make policy decisions. Now, the disputes between the society and few aggrieved members have reached before the registrar," Prabhu said.
The registrar has issued show-cause notices to societies to appoint administrators or authorised officers.
File photo of Veena Santoor Society, Borivli. Representation pic
Prabhu said, "As per the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960, election cannot be postponed for more than one year under any circumstances. However, elections haven't happened for two years now. The difficulties of more than 3 crore residents in the 83,000 cooperative housing societies must not be ignored."
"On an average, each society conducts maintenance works worth R2 lakh per year. So works worth R5 lakh for 2.5 years are pending, taking the total for 50 per cent of the societies to R2,100 crore. Since redevelopment on an average involves works worth R25 crore per society, the value of total redevelopment works that are stuck comes to R2.10 lakh crore," he added.
Prabhu further added, "In societies, administrators are appointed to handle the society affairs for a period of six months. In some cases, administrators have got extensions due to non-election. With the death and resignation of committee members, several posts are also vacant. The government should seriously consider the issues and formulate the rules in larger public interest at the earliest."
How the confusion began
According to Prabhu, the state government replaced the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies (MCS) Act, 1960, with Maharashtra Cooperative Societies (Amendment) Act, 2019, which came into force on March 9, 2019. It introduced a separate chapter after Section 154A of the Principal Act. However, new rules under the chapter have not been prepared yet, hence, the constant delay in elections.
The government had considered the challenges faced by small cooperative housing societies to conduct the election through Maharashtra State Cooperative Election Authority. Accordingly, an expert committee was formed in February, 2017, to suggest the amendments by way of a separate chapter for the registration and management of Cooperative Housing Society.
The government, after considering the suggestions made by the expert committee, notified the first ordinance on October 30, 2018. As per this Cooperative Housing Societies (CHS), up to 200 members could hold their elections without involving a registrar. Accordingly, the smaller societies started holding elections themselves in the general body. The confusion increased when the ordinance was not approved in the House to the status of CHS whose elections were due.
Thereafter, a second ordinance was notified on March 9, 2019, as per which CHS up to 250 members could hold the elections themselves. The second ordinance in the form of a bill to amend MCS Act, 1960, was placed before the Assembly and was approved.
The amendment to MCS Act, 1960, was signed and published online on July 23, 2019. Still, the confusion continued as to how the election by CHS can be held without proper rules.
To reduce the confusion, a GR was issued just before the Assembly elections to postpone the CHS election till December 31, 2019 and thereafter, draft election rules were notified on inviting suggestions and objections. It is learned that nearly 160 suggestions have come. However, till December 31, 2019, no final rules were published. On January 14, 2020, a second GR was issued to further postpone the elections till February 29, 2020, as the officers are busy in providing loan waiver to farmers.
"The final rules are not published yet, but a GR for holiday on all Saturdays came. It seems the government is not serious about giving relief to middle class citizens who are staying in the CHS," Prabhu said.
"The delay in allowing elections to be conducted in cooperative societies is also damaging the image of ruling the state government, as the absence of formulating election rules are leading to corrupt practices. The major repairs and redevelopment decisions could not be taken. This is also leading to unemployment of the skilled and unskilled workers as they are not getting repair or construction works."
Advocate Vinod Sampat, founder-president of Cooperative Societies Residents Association (registered), said, "In my view, under no circumstances the elections of cooperative housing societies should be delayed. With a large number of outlets and public places being opened during Unlock 5, I feel that elections within societies with less than 250 members can be easily allowed. The issue of physical distance is important and the same can be sorted out, while conducting elections in cooperative housing societies with less than 250 members, as no external retaining officer from the cooperative department needs to be called in to oversee the election, which is needed for over 250-plus members."
Sampat added, "Election is a democratic process of conducting a free and fair poll, in the larger interest of the housing society, and a delay in conducting cooperative society elections would only give further room for making allegations and counter allegations against the committee members by those with vested interest. Moreover, it is unclear as to why the government is keen to postpone the elections in the societies, time and again, which is uncalled for."
Sampat concluded saying, "It is also a fact that some cooperative societies managing committee with vested interest are using this delay tactics of conducting elections under the ambit of highlighting the government GR directing postponement of elections, amid COVID-19 pandemic, and such practice is uncalled for and creates room for ambiguity in minds of residents."
CHS representatives react
Mangal Kamble, founder-president of Swach Kharghar Foundation, which has around 260 residential societies in Kharghar as its members, said, "They [government] are getting reasons to delay the society elections and it is over two years that no elections could be held in cooperative housing societies across the state."
"It was first delayed due to the amendments to the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960, then came the elections, and by the time the changes were to be introduced in the Cooperative Act, we had to face COVID-19 lockdown, we can understand the apprehension, during the initial stages of the lockdown and COVID-19 pandemic, but now with lockdowns being lifted, elections in society should also be allowed, as I am of the view that any further delay in conducting the elections in cooperative society would only widen the already existing rift and grudges, between the managing committee and residents," said Kamble.
Balakrishnan Nair, secretary of Sanghvi Garden CHS Ltd in Dombivli, said, "Ours is a 116-member cooperative society and the election was due in December 2019 but due to the government GR, we postponed it. Later, the COVID-19 lockdown delayed it. I am of the view that the election should be conducted within the due course of time without further delay for smooth functioning of the society."
(1) GR dated 10-02-2017 for the constitution of committee to Amend MCS Act, 1960 for CHS.
(2) Ordinance dated 30-10-2018 to amend MCS Act 1960
(3) 2nd Ordinance dated 09-03-2019.
(4) Amendment Act 23-07-2019.
(5) Draft Rules dated 24-10-2019
(6) First Order dated 07-09-2019 to postpone election upto 31-12-2019.
(7) Second Order dated 14th January, 2020 to postpone election Up to 29th February, 2019.
(8) Third Order dated 31st January, 2020 to postpone election upto three months from the date of the order.
(9) Fourth order in March, 2020 to extend election upto June, 2020.
(10) Fifth order in June to extend upto September, 2020.
(11) Sixth Order in September, 2020 to extend upto 31st December,2020
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