Maha women harassed despite being members of housing societies

Lack of transparency and knowledge of MCS Act 1960 leads to disputes

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | June 5, 2012



The All Women’s Forum for Justice in Housing Societies formed a few days ago aims to embolden women facing harassment at the hands of managing committees of their housing societies by imparting knowledge of provisions of Maharashtra Cooperative Housing Societies Act, 1960. Guided by cooperative experts, activists and officials from different government bodies, RTI union, the body aims to fight injustice meted out to women by housing societies.

“Despite the fact that Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act 1960 and bylaws provide for reservation of seats for women in managing committees, Maharashtra Cooperative (MC) does not enforce this provision, nor are the members aware of it. The general body meetings are usually male dominated. Women only sit and listen due to apprehension,” says JB Patel, a cooperative housing  society victim-turned activist, who on May 30 secured an order for dismissal and disqualification of  MC of his housing society and the subsequent appointment of an administrator for checking malpractices and irregularities of the society and violations of MCS Act.

Patel says since most women spend maximum time in housing societies, they should be involved in the routine work of a society. Although most flats in Mumbai are registered in the names of women, they are not active members. The All Women’s Union aims to inspire them to become active members of their housing societies. When they listen to each other’s problems at the forum, it will give them confidence to shed their inhibitions and they will be able to speak in male dominated meetings. A brainchild of Patel, the idea for an all women’s forum came after he noticed women going to RTI Union meetings after being harassed at the hands of MC’s of their housing societies.

Due to acute shortage of staff, the governing housing department cannot handle the rising disputes. “Issues relating to ego, lack of transparency and knowledge of MCS Act 1960, laws and rules are the main reasons behind disputes in cooperative housing societies. Managing committees must distribute copies of bylaws to all members,” says Patel. For example, in a particular Mumbai ward, there are 3,000 housing societies under a single deputy registrar who has only three assistants.

Speaking on Mumbai District Co-operative Housing Federation Ltd, the federal body of cooperative housing societies set up to resolve housing society disputes, the activist says, ‘it needs transparency as it accepts only members of MC', and explains, “the member societies are paying subscription to the federation from the general fund of the housing societies which means that each and every member of the societies is an extended consumer of the federation. Then why only the MC members are allowed to contest the election? The candidature should be open to all members of societies registered with the federation.”

With just seven to eight months left for federation elections, the housing activist says that a complaint must be lodged with the consumer forum for denial of candidature to general members of the societies. When he demanded to see the memorandum that says the federation is a body of societies and not their members, he was denied any such document.

Pointing out another lacunae, Patel says nomination forms for the election of the Mumbai district cooperative housing federation ltd. are sent to every member society through a recorded delivery method. It is possible that the forms are recorded in outward dispatch but actually do not manage to reach the societies. The need of the hour is to create awareness about the insignificant role played by the federation in cases of aggrieved/victimised members of the societies.

In the case of RTI activist and environmentalist, Sunita Godbole, president of a newly formed forum, her husband’s RTI query reached CIC Suresh Joshi who imposed an exemplary penalty of Rs 5000 on the PIO in an appeal that was heard for five hours at a stretch and that is not all. The society, too, was ordered to provide relevant documents within 15 days.

Pearl Goswami, ex-Air India employee and chairperson of the forum, who since 1996 has single-handedly batted harassment meted out by MC of her housing society, says that she has been running from pillar to post over whether it was about compound interest wrongly charged by society on arrears left by tenants of her flat or the removal of electric meters installed on walls of her ground floor flat despite it having caused a fire due to a short circuit a few years ago. Two court orders in her favour were not implemented by the society. While she had to spend her own money fighting society harassment, they spent money from society funds.

“The committees are elected by members to protect their interests and not to harass them. Despite my mother’s nomination and will in my favour, the MC did not transfer the flat in my name. Because I am a woman and did not want to sell my flat below market price to someone from the society, they have been harassing me. I don’t want other women to suffer the same fate. Despite paying society dues on time, Goswmi had  to go to court, meet the registrar, BMC, fire brigade, and even knock the doors of Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and cooperatives minister Harshvardhan Patil for help.

Congratulating the forum on its formation and assuring all help, former joint registrar of cooperative societies and consultant for cooperative housing  matters, DV Wagh wrote to Sunita Godbole.  As word on all women’s forum spreads, many senior citizens and young women are calling regularly for help, informs Godbole.

Chhaya Ajgaonkar, director, Maharashtra district cooperative housing federation ltd asked members having disputes with their societies to approach her with prior appointment and written complaint at the federation's office at "Vikas" 1st Floor, 11,G.N.Vaidya Marg, Fort, Mumbai - 400 001 Tel: 22660068 / 22661043 / 22630505. Legal consultant Hemant Aggarwal and advocate Firdaus Moosa are other members of the forum’s committee. Similar to a government appointed administrator, members from the forum will be trained to work as administrators of cooperative housing societies.
 

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