If one has to sum up India's Residents' Welfare Associations in three words, it would be: "Making Lives Difficult". At this point in time when people need to help each other more than ever to tide over the coronavirus pandemic, many RWAs have been accused of creating troubles and harassing residents living in urban societies. They have added to the worries of the affluent and middle class as well as the poor and underprivileged who make ends meet by working as cooks, cleaners, and guards at their houses. Media is calling them "little Hitlers" and "tin-pot dictators".

Supertech resident tests positive for COVID-19 in Noida
In Noida, DM has issued a clarifying what rules RWAs can set.File

The RWAs are responsible for managing the day-to-day affairs of housing societies or a neighbourhood and set guidelines related to several issues such as security. The members of the RWAs are elected by people living in these societies and areas. They ensure the residents are following the rules and guidelines.

Ever since India went into its first nationwide lockdown to contain the Coronavirus pandemic, these RWAs have mostly caused troubles to household societies instead of helping them in addressing daily life issues with their "illegal and unjust" diktats. Despite the government's guidelines for various activities during the lockdown, the RWAs imposed their own set of rules. Be it the entry of domestic help or the delivery of medicines or any other essentials, most of the RWAs have issued their own diktats.

The unjust and illegal RWA diktats

Speaking to the IBTimes India, a resident of Narmada Apartments in Delhi's posh Vasant Kunj said that the RWA didn't allow maids even after the government allowed them on May 4.

"They said we have to submit a declaration that says house owners will be responsible if the maid contracts coronavirus. We asked them who will be responsible if the maid works at multiple houses in the apartment, they didn't clarify,"  the resident, who didn't wish to be named told IBTimes.

"They have not allowed Amazone and Flipkart delivery guys. If we order any essentials, we have to go to the main gate and collect it from there," he said, adding that "the RWA can't issue such guidelines. In fact, they are not allowed to make us submit a declaration."

Over the last two months, many irate residents have also taken to social media to share their ordeal. A Twitter user who goes by the name An Ordinary Indian wrote that his RWA had banned newspapers, which still continues, and doorstep delivery of essentials is also not allowed.

"Our RWA banned newspapers (ban continues), doesn't allow doorstep delivery (contact-less gate pe bhi hoga they say), household help (you need to sign an undertaking and you are published as "the house calling its help). Milk packets shall be sprayed with Dettol (seriously!).

"No visitors, not even blood relatives at one point (thankfully that went away a while back), visitors to be sprayed with disinfectant (think that had invoked some international debate too) ...among others..." he wrote.

Maha CHS sceening
Konark Kinara Co Op Housing Society Limited, PuneSource: mysocietyclub.com

The stupidity of RWAs is astonishing to say the least, said another user Srikanth P. He also narrated how the RWA rules in his area made the life of a poor car cleaner difficult.

"We had a guy who along with his family cleaned cars and also ironed residents clothes, our RWA allowed sweepers, electricians and plumbers but not the car cleaner/dhobi. As a result today he and his family went back to their home in Lucknow.

"Some of the residents repeatedly said to bring him back as he does not enter houses,even though a lot of residents me included helped him and family,it was not enough and also he was too proud to ask help again and again," he added.

In Noida, District Magistrate had to intervene and issue a circular in this regard. "RWAs can only impose restrictions to the extent of enforcing guidelines of compulsory wearing of face cover, sanitization, thermal screening and other measures to ensure community hygiene," the circular read.

Several Gurugram RWAs have enforced their own set to guidelines for the fourth phase of the COVID-19 lockdown stating that the domestic help workers, drivers and gardeners will be allowed on alternate days. Besides, the residential bodies have made it mandatory for them to undergo complete blood count (CBC) tests and be accompanied by employers when passing through common areas. Notably, as per the MHA norms, electricians and plumbers were allowed to resume work from April 15 and domestic helpers from 4 May.

Govt order behind RWA diktats?

Some argue that it is happening because the government has said that RWA office bearers will be held responsible if members of the housing societies are found breaking lockdown rules. The governments in a few states, including Haryana and Maharashtra, have ordered RWA to ensure lockdown rules are followed by residents. If the virus spreads in their society, they may be held responsible.