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B y Legal Bureau

Can the bye-laws of a co-operative housing society curtail the voting rights of different members of a holding separate flats in the building? No, says the supreme court: it’s one flat, one vote.

The multi-flat family problem has cropped up in scores of housing societies throughout India where different wings of a family purchase independent flats in the same building. This allows them the privacy of a nuclear family and the support of a joint family. For the society, however, this agreeable set-up can have its own problems. Since the family owns a number of flats, a little cartel is formed and this influences voting patterns in the society. As a result, one housing society in Mumbai decided to restrict voting rights to one vote per family regardless of the number of flats owned by different members.

A dispute arose amongst the members of the Merry Niketan Co-operative Housing Society Ltd at the time of preparing the voter list. A provisional list of voters listed the names of 35 members. While preparing the final list of voters, the managing committee resolved that in accordance with the society’s bye-laws, a member holding more than one flat would be eligible for one vote only. When this was announced, there were objections from those whose family members held more than one flat.

When these members filed their nominations for elections, their nomination was rejected. They therefore appealed to the deputy registrar of cooperative societies only to have their appeals dismissed. The matter reached the Bombay HC, which ruled against the society. The matter then went right up to the supreme court.

On November 2, 2007, Justice S B Sinha and Justice Harjit Singh Bedi held that Section 27 of the Maharashtra
Co-operative Societies Act 1960 Act clearly provides for one vote per member. The court observed that even though the objective behind “one family, one vote” may be laudable, it is necessary to see whether such a concept is provided for under the act. The court held that when the legislative act provided for it, no bye-law could create another concept to defeat the legislative intent. The appeal was dismissed.