Banning domestic workers, forcing quarantine: Can your apartment RWA make these ‘special’ COVID rules?

powers of apartment rwa

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Apartment RWAs have insisted on restrictions beyond government guidelines to deal with COVID, affecting residents and workers. Representational image: Ramesh Meda/(CC BY 2.0)

“In general, I don’t have a good relationship with my RWA, but COVID brought out their worst side,” says Mukesh (name changed), a resident of Ozone Evergreen Apartments in Sarjapur Road.

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His apartment RWA is one of many in Bengaluru which have come up with their own rules during the pandemic. One of these rules was to restrict the entry of domestic workers into the premises.

According to Mukesh, the RWA had promised to change this rule on June 1. They introduced declaration forms, seeking detailed information about the domestic workers and the needs of residents. But after having these forms filled, the RWA dropped the idea altogether and continued with their policy. Recently, they started allowing domestic workers in, but only for residents desperately in need – pregnant women, elderly people, etc.

More than this particular rule, it is the RWA’s attitude that bothers Mukesh. “The rules are completely opaque to me. We don’t see them taking opinions, it all happens internally and they are not accountable to anyone. Tomorrow they’ll make rules about what kind of food you can eat or who can live in the building,” he says.

Meanwhile, Satish (name changed), an RWA Board member at the apartment sees nothing wrong with making rules to deal with the pandemic. “Does the government consult every citizen for every policy they make? Government is releasing guidelines, and we are looking at the needs of our society and doing that at the apartment level for everyone’s betterment.”

But RWAs are not government bodies. Yet, in their newfound legitimacy, they continue to receive tacit support from high-ranking officers in the police and BBMP.

Across Bengaluru, many like Mukesh have complained of RWAs’ overreach and exclusionary rules. Many RWAs are reported to have barred domestic workers from using lifts, banned visitors altogether, checked boots of residents cars’ for luggage to see if they’d travelled, and even forced residents into home quarantine for 14 days in addition to the government-mandated quarantine. To enraged residents, RWAs’ rules represent a form of unwarranted policing.

Speaking to me, BBMP Commissioner B H Anil Kumar says he has received such complaints but won’t interfere. He says that residents can file court cases if they have complaints.

What legal powers do RWAs really have? How do they fit into the structure of Bengaluru’s governance? If not RWAs, then who?

RWAs to the rescue?

Vikram Rai, General Secretary of the Bangalore Apartments’ Federation (BAF), says,”RWAs have played a key role since the pandemic hit. Now as the unlock begins, their role will become even more important. Residents are confused about what the rules and guidelines are, and they look to us for direction.” BAF is an association of over 750 RWAs in the city.

Both the BBMP and state government released guidelines for RWAs on June 12 and June 8 respectively. These guidelines are just the latest in a series entrusting RWAs with certain responsibilities.

Instructions to RWAs in the recent guidelines include:

  • Care and attention to housekeeping staff, providing them with sanitisation materials
  • Thermal screening of residents and visitors at the gate
  • Monitoring those in home quarantine and ensuring they don’t move about
  • Informing municipal authorities about cases, quarantine and contacts
  • Ensuring social distancing in common areas like parks and walkways

Vikram says, “Of our 750+ member apartments, only one is a containment zone.” The numbers have been low in other apartments too, he points out. According to BBMP’s COVID Bulletin of June 14, only 14 of the 114 containment zones were tagged ‘AP’ or apartment. “This is only possible because of the work of RWAs, no doubt,” says Vikram.

Dr Sandhya, Nodal Officer (Managed Health Care), BBMP, says that RWAs have been very helpful in ensuring quaratine. Ironically, even at NGV apartments in Koramangala where she lives, domestic workers weren’t allowed in for quite long. “It was so hard for residents who were working and had kids. Even the domestic workers couldn’t earn a living,” she says. Though government/BBMP guidelines have never barred domestic workers in apartments, the rule was withdrawn in Dr Sandhya’s apartment only after a media report on the issue.

Vikram says, “There are good RWAs and there are bad ones. We get many complaints about them and we’ve clarified that there is no need for RWAs to supersede government rules.” On whether domestic workers were allowed to work or not, BAF had stuck its neck out to say that life has to move on and RWAs should not stop that. “But, there is very little we can do if individual RWAs decide one way or another.”

Can RWAs make COVID-related rules at all?

Siddharth Raja, a Bengaluru-based advocate who has worked on several cases involving RWAs, says, “Actually, RWAs can’t really do this. They don’t have the statutory power to do so. They are, after all, voluntary associations.”

Most RWAs in the city are registered under the Karnataka Societies Registration Act (KSRA), 1960, and some under the Karnataka Apartment Ownership Act (KAOA), 1972.

KSRA allows a group of seven or more adults to register as a Society under special cases – for promotion of charity, education, etc. Though the Act does not mention residential interests as one of the cases, most RWAs in Bengaluru are registered under KSRA, says Vikram. KAOA, on the other hand, is more specifically for apartment owners.

In both cases, there are stringent conditions for making or amending rules. “Powers of RWAs to make rules are actually very limited and heavily regulated by the Registrar of Co-operative Societies (RCS),” says Siddharth.

For instance, Article 16 of the KAOA says that no modification to the bye-laws of an association can be done without filing it with the ‘competent authority’, who is the RCS for both Acts. In KSRA, Article 9 lays down that a proposition can be accepted only if 75% members are in favour.

But RWAs claim that the newly enforced rules are not ‘rules’ per se. Satish says, “Changing bye-laws requires a long process and 75% majority in a general body meeting, but these [COVID rules] are operational rules or guidelines. They can be made by the Board.”

However, neither the KSRA nor KAOA mention ‘operational rules or guidelines’ specifically, but do they refer to ‘administrative rules and regulations’. Siddharth says that these usually pertain to only maintenance of common areas, collecting maintenance fees etc.

Ozone Evergreen apartment’s bye-laws doesn’t specify the process for making/amending such administrative rules. Sathish further points out that his apartment bye-laws say the Board has necessary powers for ‘administration of the association’, ‘management of the building’ and even doing ‘all things necessary for residents’ welfare’. With such vague terms, a lot is left to interpretation, and residents may have to take disputes regarding RWAs’ COVID rules to the RCS or the courts, says Siddharth. He opines that the primary question is not whether RWAs can make special rules, but how government bodies can empower voluntary organisations.

Ward committees, not RWAs, should be empowered as per law

Another problem with RWAs making their own rules is that government had enforced special rules during the lockdown under the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA), 2005. NDMA allows the central government to direct lower tiers, all the way to local bodies, to take special measures during natural disasters. But none of the Centre’s COVID guidelines even mention RWAs.

“RWAs can at the most collaborate with government bodies during the pandemic, but they cannot make their own rules or become enforcers. That has to be done by a government body. Strictly speaking, RWAs’ rules have no standing. In fact, it could become a form of vigilantism,” says Siddharth.

As per law, the pandemic duties entrusted to RWAs should have instead been given to Ward Disaster Management Cells (WDMCs). Each ward committee has to set up WDMCs as per the Karnataka Municipal Corporations (Ward Committee) Rules, 2016, for disaster response at the local level.

Won’t interfere, says BBMP Commissioner

Despite several complaints from residents, authorities have continued to extend their support to RWAs. Mukesh, for instance, had tried to seek redressal from the BBMP and the state government over social media. “All I got was a meek response from them saying I should negotiate with my RWA,” he says.

Speaking to me, BBMP Commissioner B H Anil Kumar says, “We have received complaints…but I will not deal with that, RWAs will. We will not micromanage. Whether it’s legal or not is a different matter.”

Asked about RWAs’ rules on domestic workers, he says RWAs were coming up with rules only to “safeguard residents” and it is “okay if they make their own rules”.

Anil Kumar says, “We work with RWAs to reach out to the last mile, what other alternative is there? If someone thinks it’s illegal, let them file a case and then come up with a solution. How else can you monitor quarantine at that level?”

But where are the Ward Disaster Management Cells?

Even as COVID cases increased in March and April, no WDMCs were set up in Bengaluru. In April, Kathyayini Chamaraj, Executive Trustee at the non-profit CIVIC, brought this to the attention of High Court Chief Justice A S Oka. The court took this up at a PIL hearing, and as per its directions, on April 26, BBMP issued orders to form DMCs in all wards.

As per BBMP’s orders, responsibilities of WDMCs include:

  • Ensuring quarantine of non-residents from other countries
  • Helping enforce containment zones
  • Ensuring social distancing
  • Relief efforts for migrant workers
  • Implementing rules issued by the state government and BBMP

Yet these responsibilities are still being carried out by apartment RWAs . Kathyayini says, “DMCs were formed on paper, but no one knew what to do. Even simply having meetings was a problem for them.” DMCs would comprise the councillor, ward committee members, ARO, AEE, medical officer, local police, PHC doctor, BESCOM and BWSSB engineers, as well as an RWA representative.

However, Anil Kumar says, “WDMCs were only constituted recently, they don’t have the kind of reach that RWAs have.” In areas outside apartments, BBMP is coordinating with NGOs and citizen groups for COVID response, he says.

Kathyayini says, “If WDMCs were working, they would be coordination bodies and could plan at the ward level. Unlike RWAs, they also wouldn’t only represent the interests of affluent residential societies.” WDMCs could have supported migrant workers in crisis too, for example.

BBMP’s perpetual resistance to empowering ward committees has reflected during COVID as well. Its decision to empower RWAs might have helped its COVID response, but has come at a cost to many, and throws light on the city’s broken governance structure.


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About Siddhant Kalra 13 Articles
Siddhant Kalra is a writer and researcher from Delhi.

18 Comments

  1. I am a owner of the flat at sumadhura mathrushree residence located at thindlu main road Bangalore 560097. My concern is our appartment with 289 flats has two gate. One in front and on in back. Recently our Association has closed back gate only for vehicle moving out and in. But one can go out walking. This is done because there will be control over vehicle movement. Many of the residents who stay near back gate have travel around two kms to reach office from main gate. Many of them requested to open the back gate and its the job of security to check vehicle movements. And also we requested at least make it week wise to open and close main gate and back gate vise vera. But they are not agreeing to it. It is like we are forcibly locked inside. What action do we have to take. We have requested many times.

  2. Notwithstanding the fact that some RWAs overreact and enforce impractical guidelines, it may not be proper to totally blame the RWAs as the present situation warrants difficult decisions. It’s in the best interest of the residents that reasonable restrictions are put in place considering the nature of the virus engulfed the whole world. We need to live with a little bit of inconvenience if that would help minimize the spread of the virus.

  3. As captured in this article, several apartment owners across Bengaluru are facing issues where the entry of domestic workers (into their flats) has been stopped based on arbitrary rules imposed within RWAs (by the respective management committees) during the current pandemic. We discussed this matter with Stree Jagruti Sammelan (NGO), who might be able to help us in presenting and escalating this on a relevant forum. To take this forward, it will be helpful if we have substantial data that provides insight into the issues faced on this front. Therefore, we have created a Google form to collate the required information. Kindly, fill the form and provide as much information as possible.

    https://forms.gle/qAZiZPdvFMUYmzvLA

    Could you please kindly spread the word so that other impacted/interested citizens can share their concerns as well?

  4. To Mukesh (listed in the article) and to many other apartment owners who cannot turn a blind eye towards open discrimination, corruption, moral policing, lack of transparency and arbitrary functioning of the autocratic management committees. We (some flat owners in Bangalore) started a google group to support each other in the face of such autocratic functioning of few apartment owners (also known as management committee). In this group, we share issues faced by many of us and try to find legal solutions for the same. While this existing group was created for our apartment only, we now plan to create a new google group meant for collaboration across apartments in Bengaluru. The rationale for this being the similarity in the issues faced across apartments and the extreme difficulties faced by an individual who struggles to find legal relief for her/his grievances. Also, currently, there is no organization in Bangalore that can provide such assistance, at least not one that we are aware of. In case you would like to be a part of such a group, where you can share your experience, seek help for RWA issues or help others in such situations, I request you to kindly write to us at rshcommunityliving@gmail.com with a brief background/introduction and your motivation to be a part of such a group.

  5. Bhavna, the article highlights the unreasonable, unlawful and discriminatory “rules” imposed in an undemocratic manner by Management Committees (MC – which is only 7 to 16 flat owners) of apartments/RWAs. Are they qualified to understand the epidemiology of this virus or are they simply reacting based on an irrational fear? Precautions are necessary, but that does not provide an excuse to widen the existing “class gap”.
    Every individual is equally susceptible to the virus and not just those coming from a humble background. As we all know, in India, this virus was introduced by people who travelled from abroad, the ones who live in fancy apartments and not by people coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
    However, it is easier to believe that people coming from humble backgrounds are dirty, live in crowded conditions, and are the obvious carriers of this virus and other diseases. You are not the only one though. Kent had recently tried to market their dough kneading machine by exploiting the same belief.
    This is nothing but the privileges enjoyed by the apartment owners and the exploitation of the underprivileged domestic workers. As someone mentioned, “social distancing” is not a new concept for the domestic workers as they have always been kept at a physical and mental distance by “respectable” apartment owners.

    I am sure that the language used and the discriminatory attitude displayed towards domestic workers will be highly disliked if you or apartment owners were at the receiving end of the same from the respective employers.

    Do give a thought.

  6. Good article. However, I request everyone to not transfer the burden of such decisions on the RWA – which is all members of the society. The Management Committee (MC) members are the ones who usually make unilateral decisions, impose them on all residents and then create a ground for a plethora of issues. Consent, discussions, conflict resolution, etc are virtually unheard of

  7. In our apartment complex, kids as young as 4 years roam unsupervised NO masks. At least 3-4 groups of no less than 10 people roam around in the basements every evening NO masks. Security personnel, maids, nannies NO masks. And when we try saying something, “what is it to you”. IMHO, it’s better to have RWA’s this strict than those who just don’t act. It’s better to be judicious in allowing footfall (not stop it altogether), in fact many of us voluntarily let go of all our domestic help. It is a undeniable fact that the help come from urban slums and we now that’s where it spreads in the most aggressive manner. And can we really put not just us but all the elders and kids in the apartment complex at risk? Do we really take the domestic help from the Complex gate and drop them back after they are done with the work. If we are ready for such an accountability, yes we may allow help. The effect of COVID-19 is Draconian not the safety measured against it!!

  8. Dear Friends: There was a recent funny Order from the BBMP levying charges for the removal of the Garbage from the Apt. Complexes, depending upon its Quantum. I wonder why the Federation & the Confederation of the Apts. Assns. did NOT–as it should–make a hue & cry on this arbitrary Diktat !! For the giant size Complexes, the BBMP would remove the garbage in the trucks & lorries .. but .. in the cases of the smaller
    Comlplexes with just 40-50 Flats, if they were to choose to dump them on the roads, will it NOT result in the Hygiene issues, as the stray dogs & cattle would feed on
    them !! The successive Commissioners are NOT REALLY ENTERPRISING enough to dispose the garbage and sell them to the agri-land owners in the Rural Areas, as these will serve as the NATURAL MANURE !! All the more there is an URGENCY NOW, as India might as well stop the Fertilizer Imports from China, that accounts for 18% !! Import Substitution or Self-Reliance, whatever you call it, is the Need of the Hour !! Time Shri Anil Kumar does some “home-work” on these issues at once !!

  9. I have query on Pilots frequenting to their flats in Apartments after interstate flying . How Karnataka govt and BBMP dealing with this when pilots come home and out every week on duty whether quaratine is applicable ? If not applicable , why it is not stated .
    In noth karnata close to airport apatments many pilots are living . Can Govt advise how RWA’s ahould handle this ?

  10. Thé RWAs are going beyond laws because there is ambiguity in government rules about apartment complexes. Given the mushrooming of apartments in the city, they should be given a different set of rules and clear mandates by the government

  11. ADDon: Even in any extreme / abnormal situation of “EMERGENCY”- assuming that to be have been rightly declared by the Government, in the national interest- no individual or a group of them may be denied the right to be heard by court, if that were pressed for, de hors/ in disregard of its flip side – being the most often ignored , attendant ‘responsibility’ , of every citizen owed to the society living in ! However, while that may be a strictly rigid view, the down-to – earth field reality is bound to be quite different . In short, from a pragmatic view of things, any rigid attitude in any such matter will not work wonders, should the commonly observed human trait of self- centric/ contrarian approach be totally over sighted, simply for the fancy of it !

  12. OFFhand If remember right, the Apex court has, in a related context, as reported in the print media, opined to the effect that the preventive and other steps taken by the Government (say, ‘Lockdowns’) are not to be equated/ stand comparison to “EMERGENCY’,a concept having its own ‘severity’, entailing curtailment of ‘fundamental rights’of a citizen,as guaranteed by the Constitution. In own perspective, therefore, in framing the inhouse or other rules- be it the local authority or the elected members of the representative bodies of housing complexes (the persons in governance) , or any other- need to act with the utmost restraint / practical wisdom, the only objective being to take care of the rights and interests of one and all concerned , living in such gated communities- be it out of own free will , or compulsion !!!

  13. I cent percent agree with my friend Yash Pal and the Advocate Sidharth. While the RWAs are expected to function in the best interests of their Members/Residents, a few of them have turned into AUTOCRATIC STYLE OF FUNCTIONING .. emulating the “Gujarat Model”, framing their own whimsical & illegitimate Rules !! As is usual, the City Cops function like the famous 3-Monkeys–See No evil, Speak No Evil & listen to No
    Evil–that suits well of the Bureaucracy !! >>I had appealed to the Hon’ble CM & the BBMP Commissioner that in the event of a Resident being away from his own Flat in his Apt. Complex for more than a month to take the shelter elsewhere due to the prevalence
    of the Virus , the maintenance charges should be HALVED, as He does NOT UTILIZE ANY
    OF THE ASSN’S SERVICES LIKE WATER, LIFT, ETC .. But, “Silence is Golden” is the Philosophy assiduously adopted by our Govt & the BBMP !! May the Almighty & Kempegowda Save US, the Bengalureans, all !! Amen ..

  14. Our RWA has opened up all sports facilities (no gym, no swimming pool though) and no enforcement for elders / young kids to roam around etc as well. Residents protest but they are least bothered to even respond

  15. My humble request to all of this apparmemt associations is to understand the nature of pandemic and start living with this virus. I do accept that rules framed by you is good for everyone but at the same time u need to negotiate this crisis not simply by avoidance.rule should be Farley flexible to suit all the other members living in these complexes.personally I was critizied and underwent lot of trauma when I travelled to Bangalore from Hyderabad on may 8.these gudilnes are framed on by non medical people and on a non evident basis. I request all those people not to over react and create panic among others

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