Reg. “Greetings from Auroville on the auspicious occasion of Sri Aurobindo’s 150th birth anniversary”

Aug 4, 2022 | Organisation & governance, Planning & development, Processes by-passed

Dear Auroville International friends,

Dear AVI Board, AVI Centres, and AVI Liaisons everywhere in the world —

Thank you for the continued support you have been offering to Auroville since its inception!

I am writing this email to you in my personal capacity. For those who may not know me, my name is Maël. I am an Aurovilian, a social anthropologist having done academic research on Auroville, and perhaps more importantly I was born in Auroville. Auroville is my home, and I was raised and brought up with the Charter as a core aspiration for life.

First of all, I feel the need to clarify that I have no private interest in what I will say hereafter: I live in a non-contentious apartment in the residential zone and have not had a strong connection with the Youth Centre, Darkali or Centre Field prior to last December. I feel inspired by the Mother’s teachings, by Roger Anger’s contribution to Auroville, and by the Galaxy model. Of course, I have my own opinions about Auroville and its past, present and future developments; but I am aware that I do not hold the unique Truth of Auroville, only a fragment of it — we all do so — and that Auroville can only be realised by holding hands and finding ways to unite truly.

I am writing to you today following another email, “Greetings from Auroville on the auspicious occasion of Sri Aurobindo’s 150th birth anniversary”, which was sent to you on 1st August 2022 by seven residents of Auroville claiming to be ‘the Working Committee of the Residents Assembly’. Although I respect these residents’ opinion and the fact they voice it (as long as it is not hammered as the only Truth), I believe their email contains a number of inaccuracies and I felt a call to offer you another perspective on the situation.

More specifically, I wish to call your attention on the following elements:

Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly?

Although these seven residents sign off as the ‘Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly’, it is important to note that four of them have been dismissed by a vote of 864 Aurovilians in May 2022 and the three remaining ones have not been selected by the Residents’ Assembly at all. As it may be difficult for individuals to realise how huge a vote of 864 residents is, please find below a graph which shows the participation in Residents’ Assembly Decision-making events (RADs) over the past six years. In fact, this is the second highest participation in a RAD in Auroville’s history. As a matter of comparison, the current Master Plan was approved by less than a hundred residents. It is important to note that all the residents of Auroville have been invited to express their views in this latest RAD.

Click here to see it in full size

Resisting development?
As these seven residents affirm, there have indeed been a large number of Aurovilians who have been questioning and/or opposing the recent incentive for rapid and rigid development, and its dire consequences. This does not mean that those hundreds of residents are opposed to development; only that they wish for this development to be integral, progressive and inclusive, up to the standards of a place like Auroville, and worthy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s teachings.
It is true that the development of Auroville has for long been opposing Aurovilians with different and sometimes contradictory points of view. Based on this history, the seven residents claim that those opposing the recent actions of the Secretariat do so “because they do not agree with the gazetted Master Plan”. This is mostly untrue. The situation has strongly shifted in December last year, and there are now many more reasons for which residents are resisting the forcible actions of the Foundation Secretariat. These reasons include: the authoritarianism behind these actions; the censorship applied on freedom of thought and freedom of speech in Auroville; the withholding of Aurovilians’ visas; the criminal cases filed by the Undersecretary against six Aurovilians on fallacious grounds; the repeated attempts to bypass the Auroville community and to ignore its voice; the dogmatic and sometimes fanatical interpretation of the Master Plan; the lack of consideration for sustainable factors and for the opinions of most Aurovilian experts; the lack of consideration for and integration of the neighbouring villages in the Master Plan; and the rigid and quasi-religious interpretation of the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s words, which is antithetical to their teachings.

Galaxy concept, Master Plan, or both?
The seven residents further refer to “the gazetted Master Plan based on the city plan which had been worked out by the Mother with her chief architect Roger Anger during the course of 3 years”. This sentence is very confusing, and calls for some clarity. As this very comprehensive summary shows, in 1965 the Mother drew a sketch in which she envisioned that Auroville should be subdivided in four zones (International, Residential, Cultural, Industrial) and have a peace area in its centre. In 1968, she endorsed an urban design concept, the Galaxy (which did not include any perfectly circular ‘Crown road’). The Master Plan document was prepared 30 years later, in 1999, long after the Mother had left her body. Since then, in the past 23 years, the ground realities of Auroville have evolved and some elements of the Master Plan need to be revised and adapted to the ground realities (not only in regards to eco-sensitive areas, but also to the neighbouring villages). Thankfully, the Master Plan was envisaged and approved as a “policy framework” (Auroville Master Plan, 2001, 1.1.2) and is said to “neither be traditional, nor static and rigid” (ibidem, 2.11.1). The current incentive to forcibly implement features of the Master Plan in a dogmatic way, without any flexibility, is contrary to the spirit in which the Master Plan was written and approved.

This is even more so the case in view of the absence of Detailed Development Plans, Layout Plans, Implementation Plans, Mobility studies and Environmental Impact Assessments, all of which are features required before big-scale development can take place, as defined in the Master Plan itself. To summarise: the Master Plan was not conceived by the Mother, nor approved by her. It is an interpretation of the Galaxy concept which needs to be updated and further complemented regularly. It is not a rigid document, as it is meant to evolve with the ground realities and with the “discoveries from without and from within”. Aurovilians who are opposing the latest destructive approach to development are only ensuring that the Master Plan itself is being followed, and its spirit is being respected.

National Green Tribunal’s Joint Committee?
The seven residents refer to “the meeting of the Joint Committee (with the Collector, the Forest Department and Dr Jayanti Ravi, Auroville Foundation Secretary)”. This might be an oversight from their end, since Dr Jayanti Ravi is not a member of the Joint Committee. It is curious that individuals involved so closely with the Secretary’s recent actions are not aware of the composition of the Joint Committee.

Parallel Working Groups?
The seven residents further claim that some Aurovilians “have created parallel working groups in protest against the Foundation”. This is a very peculiar way to look at the situation, to say the least. The Auroville Foundation is made of three authorities, as per the Act (1988): the Governing Board, the International Advisory Council and the Residents’ Assembly. Since the Auroville Foundation exists, and as clearly stipulated by the Act, the Residents’ Assembly has always been the body in charge of selecting members for its working groups and various committees. This practice was recognized and encouraged by the successive Governing Boards and International Advisory Councils; but the Office of the Secretary has recently started to issue Office Orders with the intention to replace members of these groups with the few people adhering to its latest authoritarian push. So far, in addition to the Working Committee, this also concerns the Town Development Council, the Funds and Assets Management Committee, the Budget Coordination Committee and the Land Board. These ‘working groups’ of the Secretariat have not been selected nor approved by the Residents’ Assembly, in fact residents were not at all consulted. On the other hand, the Residents’ Assembly has conducted its annual selection process as per the community-approved methodology, to replace those in the working groups that had ended their term. This is a yearly process that is well defined and has been strictly followed. One wonders: which are the ‘parallel working groups’?
This authoritarianism is not only pertaining to the field of urban development and working groups, but has also severely impacted essential services of Auroville. Office Orders were used to dismiss the management teams of Auroville’s Outreach Media, Auroville Archives and ACUR (Town Hall premises), among others. Most channels of communication have been seized and censored (Auronet, emails, Massbulletin, AVI mailing list, AV Compats forum). No pretext can justify such abuse of power.

Court cases?
When referring to the court cases that have been filed against the Office of the Secretary, the seven residents fail to mention that countless attempts to mediation, collaboration and higher synthesis had been made beforehand. Over the months preceding December 2021, several alternative proposals were made to accomodate all the needs of the Crown; mediation was offered to help address the split that existed in the Working Committee; in January and February 2022, the Dreamweaving process took place with the hope to arrive at a higher synthesis. All of this has been brushed aside, and coercive measures have instead intensified.

On a similar note, legitimate committees of the Residents’ Assembly have attempted to communicate with the Secretary and the Governing Board, but all these efforts have remained ignored. Referring to the courts is and has always been a last resort solution, but many residents now feel that all other options have been denied.

Information channels?
Since the seven residents’ mail includes a call to follow their information channels, which are often one-sided and sometimes a bit shallow, it feels only natural to invite you to follow other perspectives on Auroville’s happenings. I suppose some of you may have heard of the ‘Auroville Bulletin’ by ‘Evolving Galaxy’, which is a weekly summary of fact-checked news from Auroville. If you are not subscribed yet, you can email [email protected] to get registered. You may also have heard of the website standforaurovilleunity and its social media channels (Facebook – Instagram – Twitter). Finally, you may want to discover the new website (still under creation) and its Auroville News social media channels (Facebook – Instagram – Twitter).

I hope all of the above helps you approach the situation — and rediscover the seven residents’ email — from another perspective. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have on the current state of affairs in Auroville — just send me an email at [email protected], and please bear with me if my reply takes a few days.

Of course, I do not ask you to believe me blindly but instead to speak with as many Aurovilians as possible, to read factual information about Auroville’s ground reality today, and then to make your own opinions. I believe that the best way to handle the current crisis is by informing oneself extensively, and by nourishing oneself with a mix of critical mind, common sense and intuition. I trust that if we all act in accordance with our inner calls, and serve the Dream sincerely and selflessly, Auroville will grow bigger from the situation it finds itself in.

In aspiration,

Maël Shanti
Child of Auroville and Aurovilian