MUMBAI: Girish Shah has been the general secretary of a housing society in Mumbai's western suburbs for the past eight years. Though he has been managing the society's affairs, there is a simmering discontent among the residents against him. "He has not conducted fresh elections in all this time," says a resident. He adds that the entire managing committee has been appointed by Shah and they have been inventing fees and penalties that cannot be legally imposed. However, the housing society members have not taken any concrete action against the 'powerful' team.
Elections tend to be a bone of contention among members of several housing societies. "Often, an election is conducted just once and the same person continues to hold the position for years.
Society members, too, are usually not concerned unless it causes personal inconvenience to them," says Ravi Goenka, advocate, Goenka Law Associates. However, you have the right to elect the managing committee of your housing society every five years. If your society refuses to do so, you can lodge a formal complaint.
What you can do
In case of a dispute with another member or a grievance over certain practices adopted by the society, you should ideally lodge a complaint with the managing committee. The latter needs to respond within 15 days of receiving your complaint.
If there is no response during this period, you can approach the deputy registrar's office, which regulates matters pertaining to housing societies, including transfer of shares, maintenance of records, improper use of funds and unfair electoral practices. The deputy registrar's office can issue a showcause notice to your society, asking it to explain its stand.
After the hearing, if it is found that the members are indeed holding positions without having contested the elections, the existing committee can be dissolved. In its place, the deputy registrar can appoint an administrative officer to run the affairs of the society till fresh elections are conducted, which should take place within six months.
Alternatively, a board of administration, comprising three members of the society, may be appointed. Another option available to you is to approach the cooperative court against your society or even the deputy registrar. You can also file a case with the civil court or lodge a criminal complaint of misrepresentation against such members. In case the unelected member has swindled money, a case of fraud, too, can be filed against him. This route, however, is longer and costlier.
Typically, the cases go on for two to three years and the lawyer's fee would work out to anything from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. The district housing federations, which are established under the provisions of the Cooperative Housing Societies Act for the welfare of the housing societies, can also be approached. "However, for complaints regarding the elections, your best bet would be the deputy registrar as it is the fastest recourse available," says housing society activist J B Patel.
How should elections be held?
Under the Cooperative Societies Act, a proper procedure has been laid down for conducting elections to appoint a managing committee. Ideally, one must start the election process about two months before the end of the existing managing committee's term. The latter needs to put forward a notice of its expiry and invite members to contest the next election.
The committee is also expected to compile a list of members who are eligible to vote, which needs to be put up on the notice board 60 days before the election. Thereafter, the managing committee has to appoint a returning officer to oversee the election. The election programme has to be put up on the notice board and a copy submitted to the registrar.
The returning officer cannot be someone who is contesting the election or supporting a candidate. If the committee is unable to decide on a returning officer, the registering authority can appoint one.
Changes in the pipeline
There are some changes in the offing that will affect housing societies in Maharashtra. In November 2013, the state government announced that it would appoint an election authority to supervise elections in housing societies with more than 100 members.
The government is expected to make the announcement by December 2014. "Till such an authority is constituted, you cannot conduct a fresh election in your society, even if elections are due," explains Patel.