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‘Ban’ana Republics
Conduct of the managing committee in some housing societies invites charges of tyranny

 Last week, this newspaper carried a report of how residents of a new high-rise apartment building in Lower Parel passed a new rule banning servants from using the same lifts as the flat-owners.
Maids, carpenters and postmen were asked to use a separate lift. While some residents of the building did object to what they thought was apartheid on the basis of class, the rule was enforced because a majority of flat-owners agreed that servants should travel separately. A few months back, we published a story about a school teacher who was refused a no-objection certificate to buy a flat in a building in Bhayandar because the teacher’s child was differently abled.
Sometime back, a television actor moved the high court after a housing society in the western suburbs refused to let him buy a flat in the building because he was a Muslim. A few years ago, a colleague was denied a flat in a building in Santacruz that was exclusively meant for Catholics. This newspaper has also reported on a building in Dombivli that banned residents from keeping pets in the flats.
Such discrimination is not really new to Mumbai. A 20-storey building in Napeansea Road, one of the first high-rise residential buildings in the city has had a rule from the late ’60s that bans servants from using the main lifts. A resident of the building that has 120 apartments said that when he objected to the discrimination, he found himself alone in his protests.
Co-operative housing societies are the new banana republics where a small group who form the building’s managing committee run their tyrannical writ over other residents. These housing societies present the other face of Mumbai, a city otherwise known for its cosmopolitan thinking. There are an estimated 28,000 co-operative housing societies in the city and around 40 lakh or one of every three residents of Mumbai lives in such buildings. 
  “Elected members of the managing committee of the housing societies are often accused of behaving like landlords, says lawyer Vinod Sampat who specialises in co-operative law. 
 “The main grievance against managing committees is that they do not attend to complaints about leakage, for instance, by members,” says Sampat. No housing society can claim more than Rs 25,000 as transfer fees when a flat in the building is sold. But flat-owners have been regularly harassed by the building’s managing committee over the issue of transfer fees when they sell their flats. 
When disputes reach the registrar of co-operative housing societies, officials there are accused of corruption. While the Bhayandar family with the special child could challenge the decision of the building committee by saying that they were victims of oppression by a majority group, the housing societies are within their rights to pass rules like those banning servants from lifts. “Rules passed in a general body resolution can be implemented by the managing committee of the building,” says Sampat. 
  For those aggrieved by rules laid out by such societies, there is a redressal forum, including the registrar. Across the world, most people in urban areas live in condominiums and apartments. In Mumbai, people prefer co-operative housing societies. 
 The difference between condominiums and co-operative housing is that in the later, the housing society is the owner of the flats and the residents are shareholders.
   Co-operative housing societies in Mumbai, the first models of which were pioneered by the Chitrapur Saraswat community in the early 20th century are now governed by the Maharashtra Co-operative Societies Act, 1960. 
   Even with its flaws, there seems to be no alternative to co-operative housing societies. 
   “Since very few people can afford to buy independent homes in an expensive city like Mumbai, co-operative housing societies are the best urban housing models,” says Sampat.