How the RK Nagar Residents’ Association got people together to work for the community

A Model for RWAs

RWA working committee meeting
The Working committee meets to discuss the issues faced by the member streets. Pic: K L Balasubramanian

Very often the mention of residents’ associations, or RWAs, conjures up images of members of an apartment community and a rigidly structured set-up involving various office bearers. But the R K Nagar Residents’ Association (R K Nagarra), comprised of representative groups from 12 streets, is experimenting with an ever-evolving model, engaging residents from individual houses and apartment complexes in the area.

Formation of R K Nagar Residents’ Association 

In the evolution of RK Nagar Residents’ Association so far, we have covered almost 12 streets. The idea was also to create a healthy competition between the streets as they engaged in participatory civic problem solving. The residents are attempting to address various issues in terms of waste management, cleanliness and green cover.

However, instead of having a rigid structure, such as RWA Presidents and Secretary at the helm taking the lead in most issues, we have adopted a flat structure with a working committee. This allows the work to continue even if some members move away or are unable to get involved.

RK Nagarra is currently not a registered association as the members do not feel the need for it just yet, but could explore the possibility in the future. At present the goal of the association is to ensure community participation and getting all the residents involved. With a flat structure and less paperwork, the focus is on action and change on the ground. The informal nature of the group has been working to its advantage, as it fosters a sense of interest and accountability in an organic manner.

Read more: All you should know about forming an RWA in Chennai

Each street has two representatives who volunteer to be a part of the working committee. These residents champion the various causes in the respective street. Thus the voices of all the residents are represented adequately. We have 600 families across street-wise groups and there is a consolidated group that serves as an umbrella.

Within the community we have identified issues that must be addressed on priority in each street. All the contact details of local authorities of various departments of the Greater Chennai Corporation, Metro Water and Electricity Board are shared with the groups. Residents are also provided guidance on how to raise complaints for any civic issues and how to follow up with the authorities for its resolution.

We also have a women’s only group, ‘Magalir Mattum’, where the women in the area can get acquainted with each other and share any grievances they face; these will also be escalated to the working committee.

Working to improve the member streets

In the past few months, since becoming part of RK Nagarra, the member streets have undergone a complete transformation. We have addressed gaps in stormwater drains and rainwater harvesting infrastructure. The member streets are now working on identifying the top ten issues that must be addressed.

So far, we have mapped waterlogging issues during the rains. We had a particular challenge in one of the streets, Thiruvenkatam Street, with water stagnation. The working committee swung into action. We reached out to the officials with our grievances. Since then the street has seen new pipes laid and broken stormwater drains repaired. Similarly, we found that many streets had issues with the electricity board such as improper placement of junction boxes, voltage fluctuations and loose connections. We are working with the electricity board to fix these issues. We are also working to address complaints of stray animal menace in the streets and illegal parking.

Read more: Community garden of Kasturba Nagar: Residents come together to create a happy space for themselves

Garden club and what lies ahead

We have also instituted a garden club that meets every Sunday. Anyone can volunteer their time based on their availability. We take up a particular spot in the area to clean up, beautify and maintain the greenery there. This gives residents a chance to get acquainted with their locality and also spot any issues that need to be addressed. The idea is to foster a sense of ownership and accountability among the residents. 

Garden club of RK Nagarra
Residents take up pruning and beautification around the area. Pic: K L Balasubramanian

We are also in the process of consolidating a master list of problems and fixing them through outreach with officials. Our objective is to create awareness and tell other RWAs that if they are able to bring people together and work with authorities, instead of blaming them for failures, it is possible to trigger development in our neighbourhoods. 

RK Nagarra is a democratic set-up that runs on the principles of community involvement. It is a model that is not reliant on any individual but the collective will of the community. More such groups across the city can learn from each other and make a difference.

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About K L Balasubramanian 3 Articles
K L Balasubramanian is a social entrepreneur and RK Nagarra community leader.