Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday, 29 November, announced that if the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is brought to power in the upcoming Municipal Corporation (MCD) elections, "political and financial powers" will be granted to the city's Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs).
This is a significant proposal, especially considering the political influence RWAs exert. But is it a new proposal? What are RWAs? What powers do they hold? Will it be a good move to empower RWAs or will society pay a price? The Quint finds out:
RWAs: What Powers Do They Hold?
Residential societies in Delhi are managed by associations comprising a few residents, and are called RWAs. These associations -- elected by residents after a general body meeting -- overlook the day-to-day operations and help raise grievances with the local municipal body.
Every RWA has a president, general secretary, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, finance advisor, and other executive members.
Considering the RWAs to be the first connection of society residents, the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government had launched a similar scheme in 2003 to further participatory democracy.
It is pertinent to note that the RWA can only exercise its power in matters of society or building maintenance, functions, and workshops. It cannot infringe upon the right to speech or privacy of the society's residents.
Did the RWAs Exploit Their Powers During COVID-19?
During the COVID-19-induced lockdown, the RWAs in Delhi were seen making society guidelines regarding what actions were permitted and what weren't.
While some RWAs had issued advisories against newspaper and food deliveries, others even put limits on walks, allowing only a 15-minute ‘walk’ for pets. Others banned the entry of domestic helps.
As per Moneycontrol, some RWAs had threatened to ‘name and shame’ residents who ‘dared’ to take a walk in the compound against the prescribed rules during the lockdown.
Though the arbitrariness of the powers exercised during COVID-19 can be partially blamed on the fear of the disease and the changing guidelines of the district administration, the suspicion of prejudice of RWAs persists.
Even before COVID-19, instances of RWAs putting up discriminatory restrictions on lifts, or setting up arbitrary rules for pets, have surfaced.
On the other hand, since RWAs are made up of society residents, it could elevate participatory democracy in the national capital, with local citizens taking part in political decisions and policies that affect their lives.
What Did CM Kejriwal Say About Increasing Role of RWAs?
In a press conference on Tuesday, 29 November, Delhi CM Kejriwal said, “If voted into power, AAP will launch a scheme called Janta Chalayegi MCD. Presently, to get any work done, people have to run after leaders from pillar to post. Under this scheme, this system will end. Now, the people will make decisions and the government will work for them. Under this scheme, an RWA will be given mini-parshad (councillor) status; they will be given all power to address the issues of their locality. Funds will be allocated to the RWAs."
He added that the idea behind this vision is to "make people the owners of Delhi (janta ko Dilli ka malik banana hai)".
How Will Kejriwal's Proposed Scheme Work?
While a step-by-step plan of the scheme has not been presented yet, Kejriwal said that once RWAs are granted the 'mini-councillor' status, they will convey their grievances to their area MLAs.
The MLAs will then be able to allocate money to RWAs using their Member of Legislative Assembly Area Development Schemes (MLALAD) fund of Rs four crore per year, Kejriwal added.
A government official, on condition of anonymity, told The Indian Express, “Once the project is discussed and sanctioned, the RWA will have to ensure that it is executed in a time-bound manner and a report is submitted to the MLA. A fund cap for each RWA has not been decided yet."
Kejriwal added that a system, both offline and online, will be set up to ensure the scheme works transparently.
“A transparent system will be set up, both online and offline. Any grievances or demands coming to the RWA can be viewed by the councillor, the MLA, and the government as well to oversee which problems are being solved and which aren’t," Kejriwal added.
But Is Kejriwal's Proposal New? Not Entirely.
As mentioned above, under the Bhagidari scheme launched by Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government in 2003, the then-CM held monthly web meetings with RWAs and civic society, alongside government officials where grievances were raised and addressed. The initiative even won the 2005 United Nations Public Service award.
Complaints about water shortage, broken pipelines, poor condition of roads and other bill-related issues were raised during these meetings.
Delhi's former Food and Civil Supplies Minister Haroon Yusuf had said in 2019 that some money was also allocated to the RWAs under which they could write to the local sub-divisional magistrate to get their work done.
Yusuf added that the programme, however, lost traction after the Congress was defeated in 2013.
That's not all, AAP had also planned another similar scheme in 2013 wherein "mohalla sabhas" would be set up and be headed by two elected representatives.
Speaking on why the scheme did not pan out, Arvind Kejriwal, in a meeting with RWAs on Thursday, 1 December, said, “We had tried to form a law on mohalla sabhas. Delhi was categorised into 3,500 mohallas, but without MCD’s active participation it was not possible. To expect cooperation from BJP was impossible. We tried but it lost traction and couldn't be carried out."
'Will Be Good If It Materialises': RWAs
Speaking to The Quint, Lal Singh, Secretary of the New Friends Colony RWA, said, "It is a positive proposal. If MCD is not able to do some work in our area, then we can do it by utilising the funds being promised to us. "
"Hum apne area ko sundar kar sakte hain (We can carry beautification of our areas if given more money)," Singh added, stating that unlike before, his support is now with the Aam Aadmi Party.
Sanjay Sharma, Secretary of the Mayur Vihar Phase-1 RWA, also termed the proposal a good one but doubted if it will actually materialise.
He added that the proposal is not new, but "it will be good if they give RWAs some money."
On being asked if RWAs might expolit these powers, Sharma stated, "Politicians might exploit RWAs, but RWAs will not exploit their powers since we are a non-profit organisation."
The result of the MCD election is scheduled to be announced on 7 December. It remains to be seen whether the last-minute election promise will help AAP end the BJP monopoly of MCD.