THE CONFLICT IN AUROVILLE by Rod Hemsell
As reported today in The Hindu newspaper, Thursday, May 19, 2022:
Auroville Foundation condemns ‘unauthorised take-over of the Working Committee office’
A section of Aurovilians gathered in front of the Town Hall on Thursday in a show of support to the self-governance mandate of the Residents’ Assembly, one of the key decision-making bodies in the international township of Auroville.
The police was called into Auroville (on Wednesday) after the Foundation reported a break-in into the Working Committee (WC) office and an “illegal take-over of its records and communication systems”.
Meanwhile, the Auroville Foundation condemned the “unauthorised take-over of the Working Committee office by persons chosen through irregular votes… Based on the result of this illegal vote, unauthorised residents changed the lock of two Working Committee offices overnight and also seized the mailboxes of the WC and began to circulate messages to the community and outside authorities,” it said.
“The legitimate (previous) Working Committee made a complaint, based on which a police complaint was filed against the unauthorised residents who had indulged in criminal trespass and cybercrimes. The police are investigating the issues and the extent of the cybercrimes and further action is awaited”, the Foundation said.
TO SET STRAIGHT THE RECORD AS REPORTED IN THE NEWSPAPER ARTICLE QUOTED ABOVE:
The complaint against a so-called takeover mentioned in the Foundation’s statement was made against the actually legitimate members of the Working Committee who were elected just a little over a week ago, and who were occupying the offices that are rightfully theirs. These allegations are part of an ongoing attempt by the “Foundation” to invalidate the authorized decision making process of the Residents’ Assembly. In addition, it has concocted such fabulous allegations of “cybercrimes” and “anti-government” activity to justify its takeover of the Auroville community’s internal and external communication services.
The Auroville Foundation was established by an Act of Parliament in 1988 to secure the continuous development of Auroville according to its Charter. This Act created two primary structures for implementing the project: a Governing Board (GB) and its Secretary, which are appointed by the Government of India, and the Residents’ Assembly (RA) made up of all those who become community members. What is being referred to above as the “Foundation” is only one branch of the Auroville Foundation. Each branch was assigned specific roles under the Act. For the past 40 years the two branches have worked cooperatively together, creating the remarkable township of Auroville which now exists.
However, since an entirely new GB and Secretary were appointed in 2021, a conflict has slowly developed between the two branches over who is actually in charge of Auroville’s development, and what the goal and means of achieving it should be. The first instance of disagreement arose when the new GB presented an erroneous interpretation of the Master Plan which had been developed by the Residents’ Assembly in 1999, and which was subsequently approved by the Government of India in 2010. The new GB decided that the plan, which had not been implemented for a variety of reasons, must now be rapidly executed with total disregard for the actual conditions of development that have occurred on the land during the past twenty years. This was immediately seen to be disastrous as trees and structures began to be indiscriminately torn down. The Residents’ Assembly passed a resolution to halt such development, by a very large majority vote, and obtained a stay order from the National Green Tribunal – a court and legal system established for protection of the environment in India in 2010 – forcing development to stop, pending the approval of actual development plans and environmental impact assessments. These steps were already required by the original Master Plan but like the plan in general had never been carried out. This situation was interpreted by the new GB and Secretary as “blockage” by environmentalists, and any further delay was now being considered “opposition” to the “Foundation’s” presumed authority.
The “Foundation,” as it refers to itself, has launched a campaign not only to undermine the validity of the decision making powers of the Residents’ Assembly, but to promote an image of community members as being “anti-city” and “anti-progress” culminating even in allegations that the community is made up of “anti-government’ and “anti-national” extremists. This is considered by both Indian and foreign residents to be grossly insulting not only to their lifelong commitment to Auroville but to the very principles on which Auroville is based.
By making such outrageous claims in public, as seen above – first that the Residents’ Assembly decisions are invalid, and then that the duly elected WC members are “breaking into their offices” and committing “cybercrimes” when they make official announcements – the Foundation is itself violating the Auroville Foundation Act, which authorizes the RA to do exactly these things.
Similarly, and even more extreme, are the Foundation’s seizure of the community’s internal internet service, as well as its outreach media, on the basis of its ridiculous and false allegations. These acts constitute violations of the basic civil rights of the Auroville residents and cause the severe disruption of their lives. Such actions demonstrate beyond any possibility of doubt, that the intention of this Governing Board and its Secretary is to undermine the harmonious and efficient functioning of Auroville. By creating division and the impression of disorder, they want this distorted image of Auroville to represent a community in need of authoritarian intervention in order to stop its “illegal activities”, and thereby to justify its attempt to gain control over Auroville’s organization for its own purposes. These actions are obviously contrary to the ideals of Auroville, as well as being a violation of the Auroville Foundation Act and the rights of its citizens. It should be clear now to everyone that the situation will inevitably require the intervention of a court order to stop this abuse of authority, before any further destruction of the fabric of Auroville occurs, and before any steps toward a more harmonious collaboration will become possible .