Urban Stakeholder Activism and the Role of Resident Welfare Associations: A Case study of how the problems of water supply have led to the creation/ strengthening of Stake Holder Platforms/Institutions in select Colonies of New Delhi and Jaipur

Abstract: In many of the metropolitan cities of India, Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) have become important social institutions that play an increasingly significant role in the lives of the residents of these areas. In New Delhi the RWAs have become very active and over time most of the RWAs have been registered under the Societies Act. The Government of Delhi has also launched a “Bhagadari” scheme where the authorities form partnerships with the local RWAs for carrying out many activities. The purpose of my planed study is try and understand, or figure out, what makes the RWAs tick. The plan is to document the activities and functioning of a few select (selected not randomly but deliberately) RWAs in order to understand why they are successful/not successful.

The key questions examined will be those of the reasons for participation by the residents and possibility of the RWA being a viable platform for stakeholder activism in the existing urban political set-up.

Bio: I hold a Masters degree in Sociology form Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi and a M.Phil in Social Science (Science Policy) from, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. At present I am working towards my PhD on “commodification” and de-facto privatization of water in urban areas. I have done research and published on a number of topics including history of video games, watershed development and management, livestock management, open source/FLOSS software, urban water supply etc.

email: rakshat @ gmail.com

blog: Resident Welfare

—13/1/06

Hello everyone. Well its first-post time for the new I-fellows of Sarai and I am pretty excited about sharing my research ideas and progress with everyone on the list but first one is “required” to get over with the formalities of introducing oneself. I am Rakshat and I hope to someday live on my own farm, look after my livestock and write fiction. But at present I am working on my PhD (at the Center for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University) on commodification and de-facto privatization of water in urban areas and the role technology has played creating this scenario (can not remember the exact title at the moment but I am sure it will be mentioned in some of my future postings!) Earlier in life I was making a habit of changing universities (Delhi University for graduation, Jammia Millia Islamia for the Masters, JNU for M.Phil) as well as research topics (history of video games, watershed development and management, livestock, open source software [my apologies to those who use FLOSS or free software], and now urban water supply. Ok enough about ME, on to introducing the research.

My proposed research is titled “Urban Stakeholder Activism and the Role of Resident Welfare Associations”. In many of the metropolitan cities of India Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) have become important social institutions that play an increasingly significant role in the lives of the residents of these areas. In New Delhi the RWAs have become very active and over time most of the RWAs have been registered under the Societies Act. The Government of Delhi has also launched a “Bhagadari” scheme where the authorities form partnerships with the local RWAs for carrying out many activities. The purpose of my planed study is try and understand, or figure out, what makes the RWAs tick. The plan is to document the activities and functioning of a few select (selected not randomly but deliberately) RWAs in order to understand why they are successful/not successful.

The key questions examined will be those of the reasons for participation by the residents and possibility of the RWA being a viable platform for stakeholder activism in the existing urban political set-up.

The idea for this research originated while talking to and observing the activities organized by the RWAs of the C8 and C9 Vasant Kunj localities in New Delhi as part of planning out my PhD data collection (well sometimes my research topics do have some connections ;-). It was quite obvious that RWAs had become important agencies of community and stake-holder activism and I decided to explore this phenomena further.

The proposed research has started off as a sociological study of the interactions and interrelations existing within the selected RWAs in Vasant Kunj, Munirka and R K Puram as well as between the RWAs and the outside society including the Government, private agencies, other RWAs etc. As the research progresses questions like the response of and the success in dealing with the problems faced by the residents by the RWAs as well as the success of the RWAs as political pressure groups will be looked at. The organizational set up of the RWAs will also be examined.

It is proposed to use a number of tools and methods to collect qualitative as well as quantitative primary data for the above mentioned research. Participant observation will be used to study the RWA of C9 Vasant Kunj. In order to study the other RWAs in South Delhi as well as Jaipur (I am living there for a few weeks right now so this made sense) a survey would be designed. The survey would be supplemented with focused interviews with key informants.

The primary data would be complemented with a review of newspaper coverage of RWA activism in Delhi and over the last two years. For this the Internet archives of the newspapers as well as the paper copies available in Libraries would be used.

At the end of the research in August 2006 one hopes to not only have a presentable research paper but also an audio documentary, which I hope will be a lot of fun to record and edit.

Till the next time

Rakshat

19/2/06

My apologies for the delay in making the monthly post. In fact this is just a small update post to outline the progress made on my study of Resident Welfare Associations and urban stakeholder activism.

I have finally set up a blog dedicated only to this study at http://residentwelfare.blogspot.com

Right now it contains the background to the study, hypothesis and some of my primary (first hand) impressions but I will be adding more material to it very soon. So please do take a look and suggestions are most welcome.

I will also be putting up the draft of the survey I wish to carry out in the selected RWAs on the blog by the end of this month and would be grateful for advise/refinements to it.

As far as data collection goes I have started collecting qualitative data via informal interviews and this has made me realise that I was ignoring the influence of personal or private benefit (actual and perceived) as a factor for the participation in RWA activities. Very preliminary/initial understanding seems to be that atleast in some cases it is just not to better the quality of life in a colony or locality that drives people to participate in the RWA activities but also the direct individual benefits that they get. For example in one RWA (Not giving the name till I can verify the facts in more detail, but it is in Vasant Kunj) municipal water supply was also opened in the afternoon but only the members of the RWA executive body seemed to know about this and the other people in the colony were ignorant of this fact. It was also not like the RWA executive was hiding this fact, but nor had they made any effort to advertise it to all the members of the RWA. Similarly many of the residents felt that the level of security and cleaning service available to them personally was better if the service providers knew that they were active members of the RWA.

It is to verify observations like the ones above that I am planning the survey to collect quantitative data.

On another note does anyone know any library (other than the national archives) in Delhi where hindi newspapers for the last three years are kept? They are not kept in the DU library and I wanted to go through and collect articles on RWAs.

till next time

Rakshat

Friday, February 17, 2006

Hypothesis

The working hypothesis of for the proposed research is based on primary field observation and may be stated as follows:

The single most important reason for Resident Welfare Associations in South Delhi remaining active and influential is increasing urban stakeholder activism with regards to civic amenities especially water supply among the middle and upper classes.

An attempt will be made to empirically verify the hypothesis through a sociological study of the interactions and interrelations existing within the selected RWAs in Vasant Kunj, Munirka and R K Puram as well as between the RWAs and the outside society including the Government, private agencies, other RWAs etc. Questions like the response of and the success in dealing with the problems faced by the residents by the RWAs as well as the success of the RWAs as political pressure groups will be looked at. The organizational set up of the RWAs will also be examined.

The idea is to also compare the established Resident Welfare Associations of South Delhi with the new welfare associations being set up in district headquarter and/or mofussil towns as they expand and new residential colonies/complexes come up. This will be done via a case study of Jaipur where (due to the influence of the nearest metro of Delhi) in a number of multi storey buildings and residential areas Resident associations have been registered but are yet to become institutions of activisms or pressure groups. The new RWA’s will also be compared with the informal Mollaha Samitis that have existed in the City before the concept of registered RWA’s came up.

Purpose of the blog

The story written in the last post is not an isolated case. In most areas of South Delhi at least RWAs have become important social institutions that play an increasingly significant role in the lives of the residents of these areas. Over time most of the RWAs have been registered under the Societies Act. The Government of Delhi has also launched a “Bhagadari” scheme where the authorities form partnerships with the local RWAs for carrying out the many activities.

The purpose of the proposed study is try and understand, or figure out, what makes the RWAs tick. The plan for this blog is to document the activities and functioning of a few select RWAs in order to understand why they are successful/not successful.

The key questions examined will be those of the reasons for participation by the residents and possibility of the RWA being a viable platform for stakeholder activism in the existing urban political set-up.

An RWA meeting in Vasant Kunj

As I was walking past the community center of C9 Vasant Kunj, New Delhi on 19 July 2005 I noticed that a large crowd had gathered there and some kind of activity/meeting was taking place inside the building.

Driven by curiosity and the fact that I had recently shifted to the locality and had not yet visited the community center, I decided to walk in and see for myself what exactly was going on in the community center. On entering I realized that a special joint meeting of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) of C9 and C8 Vasant Kunj was taking place to discuss the problems of water supply in the area. Delhi Jal Board officials, State administration officials and even the local Member of the Legislative Assembly had been invited and were present at the meeting. But what surprised me the most was the high level of participation among the residents of the area. Representatives from almost half the houses falling within C8 and C9 Vasant Kunj had taken the time out to come and attend the meeting.

Residents were very vocal about their water problems and led by their RWA’s governing bodies they talked about the limited/non supply of water to their houses, the fact that the water supplied was chemically unsuitable for drinking even after treatment through home filters and the residents had to depend on private mineral water suppliers for their drinking water needs, the high rates being charged by private water tankers for filling up individual water storage tanks on days that the official water supply failed as the free water tankers would never arrive on time. The meeting was carried out in a very organized manner, petitions were presented, the officials were asked to respond to the complaints and the meeting only ended when the government officials gave assurances to look into the problems.

The interesting point about this meeting was that the RWA was acting as a well organized pressure group and this was in stark contrast to the apathy and lack of interest in RWA activities that I had witnessed during my short stay in the colony. In fact few people had voted during the RWA elections and only a slightly higher number had attended the cultural get-togethers organized by the RWA. Even the security norms prescribed by the RWA were ignored by most of the residents most of whom had never got security passes made for their vehicles.

As I talked to people I soon realized that on the issues dealing with civic amenities the RWA provided a very good platform for negotiating with the authorities and was very active and successful in this regard.

26.5.06

This is a long long overdue post. Its been a while since I posted any update on my I-Fellow Project on Resident Welfare Association & Urban Stakeholder Activism, but in this post I will try to discuss one specific issue, that I find very interesting and has cropped up during my initial surveys, meetings and discussions.

This issue is – Role of Women in RWA’s -> One of my reasons for choosing the issue of RWA activism for further investigation was that whenever I visited any of my friends or relatives and had a chance to talk to the parents/ older generation (i.e. aunts and uncles) the working of the RWA used to invariably become a topic of conversation. The interesting part was that it was the women (mothers and aunts) who were more vocal and talked about the facilities being made available/ not being made available in great detail.

Based on the above, I had assumed that women would be playing a very important role in the functioning of the RWA and would also be holding a lot of the office bearer posts. (I also assumed that some of them being home makers would have more time).

I was initially surprised when I, for the first time, carefully looked at the list of RWA main office bearers of the colony where I am living in a rented accommodation (C9 Vasant Kunj) and found no women members. But I was even more surprised by my findings when I conducted informal interviews in the Kalkaji Extension area (Pocket A 14).

My initial contact in Kalkaji was a lady (Flat No 58) and through her I got to meet a few other ladies in the colony. Through them I was hoping to learn quite a bit about RWA functioning in the area, and I did, but what I found unusual were their views on attending RWA meetings and the decision making process of the RWA. Though they did attend some of the RWA meetings, they felt that most of the main decisions were taken by the men in the colony. (And they seemed ok with it). “Male dominated” and “the men decide” were some of the phrases used by the women. The women were satisfied with the working of the RWA though not thrilled but did have some minor grievances. For example, the RWA had set up a uniform system of garbage collection from the houses. This did not suit many of the women /residents. But when they tried to make private arrangements the RWA did not allow it. The women also felt that because the RWA was male-dominated they were not very comfortable about raising issues that only they felt strongly about.

After the interviews in Kalkaji Extension, I went through the newspaper/ web articles about RWA that I am collecting and realized that though there are some comments by women RWA members in the newspapers, the men do seem to be taking the lead in most of the activities / government interactions / agitations organized by the RWAs. (For example, Water Harvesting initiatives, agitations on house tax, highlighting water problems etc.[I have gone through the newspaper and web articles in a cursory manner at present, and will look at them in detail in due course]).

I feel that the role of women in RWAs is an issue that needs to be explored further (as there may be other RWAs where women are much more active), and I will do so as my work progresses.

I had used the ‘stakeholder activism’ concept based on my earlier work on rural development (in Rajasthan) where, on being provided a multi-stake holder platform, the rural women had become much more vocal and started to actively participate in the development activities. I had assumed that in urban areas women will be participating anyway in any kind of stake holder activism (as I have visualized RWAs activities to be). But my initial findings have left me quite surprised.

From: rakshat hooja <rakshat@gmail.com>
Date: Jul 21, 2006 3:53 AM
Subject: survey of 5 RWAs in DelhiTo: reader-list@sarai.net

In this post I will try to briefly summarize the quick readings of qualitative findings of the first part of a questionnaire based survey undertaken in 5 Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) of New Delhi/ Delhi (C-8 Vasant Kunj, GK II, Self Financed Flats Shiekh Sariai Phase 1 and Self Financed Flats Mukherjee Nagar. The second part of the survey consisted of more qualitative interviews which I will cover in the next post along with more detailed analysis of the qualitative data collected. Also I have not created tables in order to stick to the text format of the mailing list.

****C-8 Vasant Kunj****

This is 15 year old RWA where membership charges are Rs 1100 per annum or Rs 100 per month.

Members of the RWA among the sample – 87.5%

Percentage satisfied with the civic amenities in the colony/residential area – 50%

Percentage satisfied with the electric supply in the colony/residential area – 87.5%

Percentage satisfied with the water supply in the colony/residential area – 0%

Percentage satisfied with security in the colony/residential area – 0%

Percentage that vote in the RWA elections – 87.5% (100% among the members)

Percentage that has had to complain/deal with Delhi Jal Board/Electric Utility/MCD in the recent past – 87.5% ( 100% have complained individually, 50% have also complained with the help of the RWA, 1 respondent had complained with a independent resident group other than the RWA)

Percentage that felt that the RWA was useful/had empowered them in their dealing with the various government agencies/ utilities – 75%

NOTES (nowhere near exhaustive at this moment, just some things that caught my eye while quickly glancing through the questionnaires) –

1. Women are a majority in the executive council on the RWA.
2. RWA runs a community center, gym, badminton court, TT table in the colony

BYTES (these are some of the quotes by residents. All the questionnaires were filled by the respondents in their own hand writing so as to avoid loss in translation)

K Gulati (C 8/ 8011 Vasant Kunj) “The benefits have reached only few people, but we have been able to voice our difficulties through the Resident Welfare Association. The RWA has not been of any help in improving water supply except for areas where elected members live.”

SS Kapur (C8/8060 Vasant Kunj) “RWAs impact on civic facilities and other essential requirements depends on the enthusiasm of its members. Every election of RWA brings in change for good or worse.

****SFS Flats Sheikh Sarai****

This is 22 year old RWA where membership charges are Rs 800 per annum

Members of the RWA among the sample – 100%

Percentage satisfied with the civic amenities in the colony/residential area – 100%

Percentage satisfied with the electric supply in the colony/residential area – 87.5%

Percentage satisfied with the water supply in the colony/residential area – 100%

Percentage satisfied with security in the colony/residential area – 42.8%

Percentage that vote in the RWA elections – 100%

Percentage that has had to complain/deal with Delhi Jal Board/Electric Utility/MCD in the recent past – 87.5% (Most residents complain individually as well through the RWA office)

Percentage that felt that the RWA was useful/had empowered them in their dealing with the various government agencies/ utilities – 87.5%

NOTES (nowhere near exhaustive at this moment, just some things that caught my eye while quickly glancing through the questionnaires) –

1. Women members are active but most are co-opted and not elected
2. Facility for paying electricity, water and telephone bills and property tax is provided by the RWA. Advise on property tax is also provided.

BYTES (these are some of the quotes by residents. All the questionnaires were filled by the respondents in their own hand writing so as to avoid loss in translation)

A P Sexena (C-476 SFS Flats Sheikh Sarai) “Defective tubewells have been made operational, security guards have been appointed, roads have been improved”

D C Tayal ( C- 238 SFS Flats Sheikh Sarai) “RWA organizes health camps, walks, servant verification camps, car check up camps etc.”

****A 14 Kalkaji Extension****

This is 22 year old RWA where membership charges are Rs 100 per month

Members of the RWA among the sample – 71.5%

Percentage satisfied with the civic amenities in the colony/residential area – 28.5%

Percentage satisfied with the electric supply in the colony/residential area – 86%%

Percentage satisfied with the water supply in the colony/residential area – 43%

Percentage satisfied with security in the colony/residential area – 28.5%

Percentage that vote in the RWA elections – 71.4%

Percentage that has had to complain/deal with Delhi Jal Board/Electric Utility/MCD in the recent past – 71.4% (only 14% of the sample had complained through the RWA)

Percentage that felt that the RWA was useful/had empowered them in their dealing with the various government agencies/ utilities – 71.4%

NOTES (nowhere near exhaustive at this moment, just some things that caught my eye while quickly glancing through the questionnaires) –

1. There are no women in the RWA committee.
2. Election process is by show of hand.
3. RWA conducts many functions on festivals and national days.

BYTES (these are some of the quotes by residents. All the questionnaires were filled by the respondents in their own hand writing so as to avoid loss in translation)

T Nag (5B – A 14 – Himgari Apts. Kalkaji Extension) The only use of the RWA is that is serves as a platform for developing new acquaintances and friendships among the members.

B Banerjee (10A- A 14- Himgari Apts Kalkaji Extension) “I complain individually because the RWA is defunct functionally in our colony.”

**** GK II****

This is a 38 years old RWA where membership charges are Rs 700 for life.

Members of the RWA among the sample – 100%

Percentage satisfied with the civic amenities in the colony/residential area – 88.8%

Percentage satisfied with the electric supply in the colony/residential area – 100%

Percentage satisfied with the water supply in the colony/residential area – 88.8%

Percentage satisfied with security in the colony/residential area – 55.5%

Percentage that vote in the RWA elections – 100%

Percentage that has had to complain/deal with Delhi Jal Board/Electric Utility/MCD in the recent past – 100% (33.3% through the RWA, rest individually)

Percentage that felt that the RWA was useful/had empowered them in their dealing with the various government agencies/ utilities – 100%

NOTES (nowhere near exhaustive at this moment, just some things that caught my eye while quickly glancing through the questionnaires) –

It was with the help of the RWA and other associated RWAs the colony was able to achieve the following:

1. Lowering the category for the colony from A to B for the purpose of calculation of house tax.
2. Roll back of the tariff hike of electricity by the government.
3. Freezing of the cable TV rates

****SFS Mukherjee Nagar****

This is 10 year old RWA where membership charges are Rs 100 per month.

Members of the RWA among the sample – 62.5% (one respondent said that the RWA did not exist in his colony!)

Percentage satisfied with the civic amenities in the colony/residential area – 50%

Percentage satisfied with the electric supply in the colony/residential area – 75%

Percentage satisfied with the water supply in the colony/residential area – 62.5%

Percentage satisfied with security in the colony/residential area – 37.5%

Percentage that vote in the RWA elections – 50% (one respondent said that there was no need to vote as the elections are unanimous)

Percentage that has had to complain/deal with Delhi Jal Board/Electric Utility/MCD in the recent past – 87.5% (37.5% complain via the RWA)

Percentage that felt that the RWA was useful/had empowered them in their dealing with the various government agencies/ utilities – 87.5%

NOTES (nowhere near exhaustive at this moment, just some things that caught my eye while quickly glancing through the questionnaires) –

1. There are no women in the executive member in the RWA

BYTES (these are some of the quotes by residents. All the questionnaires were filled by the respondents in their own hand writing so as to avoid loss in translation)

K S Shukla (346 SFS Mukherjee Nagar) “The RWA can only be useful if the executive members show sincerity …. Rather than occupy the seats. They should stop the infighting.”

S K Chauhan (126 SFS Mukherjee Nagar) “RWA is most essential for a colony because some work can not be undertaken by individuals.”