A voluntary activity with full-time responsibilities and challenges: This largely defines the job of managing committee members of a cooperative housing society.
Though many managing committees are guilty of running housing societies like their personal fiefdoms and exploiting their power for financial gain, there is another side to the story. From obtaining the conveyance deed from the builder to overseeing the day-to-day affairs to handling repairs to managing accounts and ensuring regular meetings are held, their to-do list is unending and often unpleasant.
“Most don’t want to take up the job of being the secretary or the chairman of a society. But someone has to assume responsibility. I took it up because I felt some positive changes had to be made in my society,” said Prahlad Bellubbi, 55, chairman of a society in Dombivli.
Siddhartha Pande, 54, who joined the managing committee of his society in Goregaon three months ago, agrees. “Most of the time no nominations are filed for any posts, so people have to be persuaded to do the job,” said the director of an IT firm. “Now that I am closely involved with the working of my society, I have come to understand how important and responsible a job it is.”
Bellubbi, an IT and management consultant, feels that bringing a consensus among members on issues during general meetings is a crucial part of the job. “After becoming the chairman, when I raised the issue of increasing the maintenance fees, other members would not hear of it. We had to make them understand that the building’s expenses and maintenance charges are inversely proportional. The older the building grows, the more repair work there is. At the same time, labour and other costs are rising,” said Bellubbi who managed to raise the society maintenance charges by Rs 150 a flat after five years.
However, housing activists point out that often the expenditure on repairs and painting a building become controversial because of doubts over the way contracts are given and amounts fixed.
Being on the managing committee eats into your personal space, say committee members. “Sometimes the watchman rings the doorbell at 3 am saying the water pump is not working, and I have to look into the matter immediately,” said Amar Shah, chairman of a society in Andheri.
Pande thinks it’s unfair that the managing committee members have to face the music when rules are made at the society meetings. “If the members don’t come for meetings or participate in the decision-making process, they have no right to make allegations. Rules are democratically voted upon,” he pointed out.
Ramesh Prabhu, chairman of the Maharashtra Societies Welfare Association, said ultimately, the managing committee and all the members must abide by the laws that are deliberated democratically in the general body meetings “Only then can they ensure the smooth functioning of society affairs,” Prabhu said.
The requirement of signing the M20 indemnity bond by managing committee members of all societies has received mixed responses. “Nobody wants to be in the managing committee now. Most people don’t see the point in signing an indemnity as they don’t get paid to do the job. Our society has collectively decided not to sign it,” said the chairman of a society in Malad, requesting anonymity.
Section 73 (1AB) of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960 and Rule 58-A of Maharashtra Cooperative Society (MCS) Rules, 1961, make it mandatory for all managing committee members to file the M20 bond, which makes committee members responsible for all the acts and omissions detrimental to the interest of the society. The laws state that if a member fails to sign the bond within 45 days of assuming office, his or her election to office can be annulled.
“The indemnity bond has become a contentious issue, but our society has filed the bond. Since what we do is a public job, we are anyway liable for prosecution. So even if the bond did not exist, we are accountable,” said TN Vijaykumar, secretary of a society in Dahisar.
“Though it sometimes becomes a means of harassing the managing committee members, the Bombay high court has dismissed the arguments made by managing committees in several cases and dissolved those committees that have not filed the indemnity bond,” said Vinod Sampat, an advocate who handles property matters.
Hauled to court for no fault of his
The secretary of Vasant Sagar society in Thakur Village, Kandivli, has been making rounds of the metropolitan magistrate court in Vile Parle since the past year. His offence: He was elected secretary at a time when a dispute about the commercial complexes in his society was at its peak.
In July 2009, a managing committee member of the society approached the civic body on behalf of the society asking it to issue a notice to the commercial complexes running in Vasant Sagar to stop their businesses.
Khanduri and the current managing committee of Vasant Sagar were elected a few months later, in September 2009, but the issue has landed in their laps though they too share the complainant’s objections to the commercial shops in their complex that the builder had given permission to operate in 2001.
“We did our part and sent a letter to the commercial complexes on behalf of the society to stop their businesses. But they did not and the civic body filed a case in April 2010 in the magistrate court against the complexes and made the society and me co-accused in the case for not taking action against the complexes. So I am called for hearings in the court every month as the case is filed against my name, instead of being against the ‘secretary of the society’. I don’t know how long I will have to bear this,” said Khanduri.
Amarendra Pargaonkar, a lawyer and managing committee member of the society, said: “We have been following the case with the civic body, but instead of making us witnesses in the case against the complexes, the BMC has implicated the secretary and the society in the matter and filed cases against us too.”