Preparing for a third Covid wave: Challenges await RWAs

Preparing for a third Covid wave: Challenges await RWAs

Estimates suggest that there are more than 20,000 apartments in Bengaluru which houses at least 20-30 per cent of the city’s population

RWAs have tried to address the various responsibilities and challenges the multiple waves of the pandemic threw at them. Credit: DH Photo

“Residents are allowed to walk or jog only in clockwise direction around the building to avoid any air-borne infection risk from the opposing direction” – this was one of the guidelines imposed by a Residents Welfare Association (RWA) in Bengaluru during the days post the first lockdown last year.

While this might border on the funny to the bizarre, the fact that the pandemic and its impact were a completely new beast to all of us, the many RWAs and apartment complexes of the city included, and that we might have collectively grown wiser and smarter in dealing with the pandemic over the two waves is a hopeful guess. Now that we know that the waves will keep coming, at least for a reasonable period of time, are there inputs and learnings that we can derive, to help us deal with and beyond the pandemic on an ongoing basis?

Estimates suggest that there are more than 20,000 apartments in Bengaluru which houses at least 20-30 per cent of the city’s population. Most of these apartments have RWAs that oversee and manage the operational functioning of the apartment complexes.

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Challenges galore

These RWAs have tried to address the various responsibilities and challenges the multiple waves of the pandemic threw at them while managing their resident communities. Many of them have actually played a phenomenal role. They execute a tough and a thankless job.

A few of the RWAs have also been accused of implementing draconian rules and guidelines during and after the lockdowns, leading to clashes between residents and committees, often bringing to question the scope and authority of an RWA.

While there are many debates and court cases which are going on to determine the legal shape and structure that an RWA can exercise, it is an undeniable fact of the growing city landscape that RWAs can play a crucial role in a meaningfully organised, participative urban governance process.

Risk management

Most of the RWAs across the city have actively collaborated with the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and health department authorities in various aspects of pandemic containment and risk management, be it in testing and tracing, isolation and case management, quarantine watch, setup of micro-care-centers etc.

They are hence well prepared to deal with the expectations on such front for future waves too. Apartments took the lead in organising on-site vaccination camps, which have ensured that a good majority of eligible residents have completed either both or at least one dose of vaccination.

They would need to continue to display the same level of initiative in the next few weeks, when a big majority of residents in the 18-45 year category will be due for their second dose, to ensure that all of them complete the same in time as well.

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Proactive engagement

Historically, RWAs have not been the most active in engaging with governance and have had a poor track record even on fundamental aspects like voting – the relationship with the government and civic authorities had always been somewhat transactional.

The pandemic has forced a situation where RWAs and Government bodies had to court each other for various mutual needs. This is a great opportunity for both of them to extend this courtship to a meaningful and long-term engagement mechanism on various facets of urban governance.

RWAs offer the government an organised mechanism to engage with the citizenry and better understand their expectations, while drawing upon their network and reach to execute public impact initiatives and measures more effectively and with active participation.

It is hence incumbent upon members of these RWAs and apartment complexes to enhance their own internal models of participative governance by having more resident participation and engagement as a means towards proactive engagement with the government.

Building bridges

The long and arduous battle with the pandemic has dented our psychological well-being and human relationships have been affected in various ways. RWAs and apartment communities are a reflection of that impact. We have seen deaths of our own or neighbours or staff.

The homes have now become digital workplaces and schools as well, and there are territorial battles within 2 or 3 BHK homes. The erstwhile community events, celebrations, walkers-groups, sports-gangs etc., that played a crucial role in the social and cultural integration of the community have been missing.

WhatsApp groups and Apartment Management apps have seen long debates and arguments on rules and guidelines. Hence there is a crucial need to heal and rebuild bridges. RWAs could now put Covid management efforts on auto-pilot and focus on rebuilding the confidence and trust of their communities to live and let live in Bengaluru.

(The author is General Secretary, Bangalore Apartments’ Federation (www.baf.org.in))