The role of residents’ welfare associations (RWAs) in solving civic problems in the neighbourhood is undeniable. Active RWAs not only help in bringing about positive changes in civic life in the area, but also enhance awareness of rights and duties among the larger citizenry. But how does one form an RWA where none exists? What are the powers of such an RWA? Who can become office bearers? How are by-laws framed?
This FAQ tries to answer the most common queries with regard to forming a welfare association.
What is a Residents’ Welfare Association and how is it formed?
An RWA is a body of members comprised of residents living in a particular neighbourhood or apartments to function towards a cause. RWAs are registered under the TN Societies Registration Act 1975**. According to the Act, any seven or more persons associated for any literary, scientific, social cause or charitable purpose can come together to form an association. Thereby, an RWA is governed by the rules of the Constitution and should comply with it. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution empowers society with the right to form an association.
RWAs in apartments should be registered under the Tamil Nadu Apartment Act and the Societies Registration Act.
An association is registered at the District Registrar’s office. Memorandum and by-laws should be submitted at the time of registration. Memorandum includes the name of the association, objectives of the association, names, addresses and occupations of the members of the committee and should be signed by five members of the association.
What are by-laws?
This document is the holy book of an association. By-laws are a set of guidelines that detail the provisions for all matters concerning the association. It is a set of private laws formed by the association for governing the body to ensure an apartment is well-maintained or solve a problem that involves government agencies.
What are the components of the by-laws?
- Memorandum of association
- Objectives and scope
- Rights, obligations and privileges of office bearers
- Rules about evicting members
- List of qualifications for holding office
- Term of office and other conditions
- Rules for acting if the payment of maintenance or any other charges is delayed
- Powers of office bearers and members
- Defining commercial usage of a facility
- Details about the annual general body meeting
- Annual reports
- Association juristic person
- Operations of the RWA
- Voting powers
- Election norms
How can the amendments in the by-laws be made?
Amendment of by-laws should be discussed in the annual general body meeting and a resolution should be passed by three-fourths of the members. Changes made in the memorandum of the association should be filed at the registrar’s office within 30 days to be effective.
Who are the office bearers of the association and how are they elected?
According to the Societies Registration Act, there should be a minimum of seven members to form the association. They could be President, Vice-president, Secretary, Joint Secretary/Joint Secretaries, Treasurer and executive committee members.
Interested residents (or flat owners, if it is an association for the apartment) can be nominated and an election should be conducted during the general body meeting. Elections can be conducted as mentioned in the by-laws of the association.
If the flat owner or resident who is enrolled as a member of the association is unavailable on the day of elections, he/she may request for a proxy in advance. According to the Societies Registration Act, the term of office of an RWA can be extended up to three years.
How can vacancies in an RWA be filled?
Depending on the rules framed in the by-law, casual vacancies are filled. The RWA can conduct the election immediately or can wait till the next general body meeting.
What an RWA can or cannot do
In case a member fails to pay the maintenance fee, an RWA can file a case for the property to be sold and seized, so that the maintenance due can be made good from the sale proceeds.
However, the association cannot disconnect essential services like water, sewage and electricity supply. Decisions on continuing non-essential services like RO, DTH and the Internet can be taken as per the by-laws; the final call rests with office-bearers. An RWA can file a case with the court if the need arises.
Rules for governing the RWA can be made. However, it should be noted that the association cannot frame rules that are against the Constitution. For instance, an RWA cannot reserve an apartment/locality only for members of one particular religion.
The RWA is the owner of common areas like a park inside an apartment, the driveway etc. and should maintain these
The RWA can fight against the builder/government agency in case of any problem and can legally avail services.
The RWA should mandatorily conduct an annual general body meeting, display the audited statement and pass the budget.
The RWA should conduct monthly meetings, record the minutes of the meeting and display the minutes to the members of the association.
How should the funds of the association be stored?
The funds of the association should be kept with a nationalised bank and be operated by the treasurer, president or the general secretary only. The association can appoint an auditor to audit the accounts.
(Inputs from Balaji Prem Kumar, a practicing advocate at the Madras High Court.)
** Errata: The first published version of the article mistakenly mentioned that RWAs in Chennai are registered under the Societies Registration Act 1860. The error is regretted and has been corrected.