Nurture RWAs as nerve centres of city’s development
To make our cities liveable and sustainable, we need to take individual, community and city level steps. Change starts from an individual level; a bunch of individuals collectively inspire communities to act, and if local colonies and communities transform, it cannot be too long before when the entire city follows suit.
The role of RWAs in the mid-level transformation is vital. RWAs are the vital connecting tissues between individuals and city. In fact, it will not be too misplaced to say that RWAs are vehicles of “last mile governance”; their role begins right where the role of the government ends. To be sure, RWAs not only provide for and maintain the local infrastructure including street lights, internal roads, maintenance of parks and security; social and cultural aspects such as organising festivals; but they can also help make their colonies islands of excellence in sustainability. RWAs are the essential building blocks of the city’s development and if more and more RWAs adopt to sustainable practices, the task of the authorities towards making a city sustainable becomes that much easier.
In Gurugram, many RWAs have becoming leading lights in waste management practices, installing sewage treatment plants, rainwater harvesting, installing solar, creating storm water drain recharge structures, greening and plantation; creating community kitchen garden actions that help reduce their carbon and water footprint.About 32 colonies in Gurugram are segregating waste and composting their wet waste using low cost composting or community composters; pioneers being Garden Estate RWA, Richmond Park and Regency Park II. After Wellington RWA completes its Phase II installation of solar by this Dec 2018, it will become the largest rooftop solar installation in Haryana in the residential sector. Recently, Vipul Greens RWA inaugurated its community kitchen garden by resident children who joyfully plucked the first harvest from it.
What makes some RWAs do better than the others? The more successful RWAs are the ones that have members who are united by a common vision, have the strength and willingness to prioritise action and implement a plan and have a talented pool of professionals to draw upon to be able to take the right decisions. Others, do want to do the right thing, but because of lack of confidence to be able to take the right decisions, remain on status quo. Sometimes, the entire RWA team changes after elections and the good work done by the previous RWA comes to a naught. It is also seen that RWAs of closed colonies such as apartment complexes and condominiums have been able to take more progressive steps than RWAs of plotted areas.
Both the residents and the authorities can play a role in strengthening the hands of the RWAs. As residents, we need to make the right choices in electing our RWA representatives and play a more dynamic role in supporting them. As authorities, we need to put a consistent mechanism in place where RWAs’ voice is heard in a structured, recordable format. One such mechanism is to activate the “ward committees”.
The Municipal Corporation of Gurugram has recently released a public notice for constitution of ward committee/ area committee and sub-area committee under the Haryana Municipal Citizen’s Participation Act 2008. This is an excellent step to improve city’s governance, improve urban environment and ensure greater involvement of the local elected representatives i.e councilors and use the expertise of local citizens. While the ward committees will be led by councilors of wards, area committes will cover specific colonies under wards and sub-area committes will cover specific streets and mohallas.
Besides, the Haryana Municipal Corporation Act 1994 too mentions constitution of ward committees as a mandatory requirement. All inputs from the 35 wards could be compiled at the Mayor’s office and forwarded to the MCG. In this way, RWAs would have a structured consultative role to play in the city’s governance.
If RWAs are such vital vehicles of change, how do we improve efficiencies of these bodies across the board. One is to identify and showcase best practices of RWAs in water harvesting, waste management, solar, greening etc through workshops and other engagements so that RWAs that are on the learning curve gain confidence. The hand-holding that can be provided by one RWA to the other cannot be replaced by guidance by consultants and vendors. Two, is by having regular meetings with the authorities such as MCG and GMDA so that they feel empowered and supported on their journey towards sustainability. For instance, MCG provides financial help in creating sheds or providing space for community composting. RWAs may also need authorities help in improving the green cover in and around their neighbourhoods or in removing encroachments. City level “RWA Awards” that recognize the efforts of various RWAs in bringing change in different areas can also provide the much-needed boost.
Some structural changes in the way RWAs are constituted will also make a difference. There is a growing view that registering RWAs as societies undermines their worth as Societies are typically formed as welfare arms for a group of doctors, artists etc while RWAs undertake serious infrastructural work. So rather than Societies they should be registered under “Owners’ Associations”. RWAs are currently registered under two categories – the plotted colonies are registered under Haryana Registration and Regulation of Societies (HRSS) Act, 2012 while all apartment complexes (cooperative and group housing) are registered under the Haryana Apartment Ownership (HAO) Act 1983. Some governance experts feel that all RWAs should be governed by a “common constitution”. By aligning around common laws and byelaws (the voting process, the tenure, the process of maintenance of common areas) will give all RWAs a greater voice and empowerment.
RWAs need to attract the right talent. Persons standing for the elections to the RWAs should have the right credentials, integrity and intent. Voting for electing the Executive Committee should be done under a standardised and transparent process. The tenets of voting rights need to be made flexible so that not just the “owners” but their kith and kin could also vote and participate more actively in the affairs of the colony. Similarly, residents who are not owners or designated representatives of the property should also be able have a say. Last but not the least, we need more women to be part of RWAs just as we need more women in politics, corporates and other fields.
Let’s empower RWAs of Gurugram to make them the nerve centres for change!