Why is this happening in Auroville right now? Putting the pieces together – a short summary
Why is clearing of buildings and trees taking place in Auroville?
The clearing is to make way for the development of the Crown area, which is part of Auroville’s MASTER PLAN. The ATDC perceives the Crown as a 16.7 meters-wide ‘right of way’ including roads, paths and infrastructure – which runs through existing buildings, forest and water bodies.
What makes this plan special?
The Master Plan is meant to be FLEXIBLE, to take into account ground realities. The Plan also upholds the role of Auroville’s residents as EQUAL stakeholders* in the development process.
(*a collaborative approach upheld by law in the Auroville Foundation Act 1988).
Why are there different interpretations around MASTER PLAN implementation?
Top down: a FIXED plan approach which perceives the Crown as a perfect circle, no matter the environmental consequences or existing developments. Bulldozing trees in the middle of the night, without work orders, and without community consensus.
Bottom up: a FLEXIBLE plan approach, which is environmentally sensitive, considering water bodies and trees, including endangered species. Not implementing an outdated 20-year-old plan without necessary permissions* and public hearings. Not overriding the community’s longstanding collective decision-making processes.
(*Detailed Development Plan; Environmental Impact Assessment).
What is at stake?
Harmony. Safety. Unity. Ecological sensitivity. Autonomous collective decision-making that Auroville has always practised. Freedom of speech.
What do we want?
Not a road built on sudden bulldozing, threats and violence.
We want to build the city the earth needs.
We want to find a common ground through peaceful dialogue.
As a city dedicated to human unity, Auroville needs to be built with human unity.
The process is as important as the outcome.
Updates on Auroville’s situation – 5 Jan 2022
- The National Green Tribunal has placed a stay order on all development in Auroville until the 3rd of Jan. This stay order has been extended while the case is ongoing. Our town planning authorities have disregarded this court order and continue to lay cables and dig trenches.
- Our Residents Assembly community decision-making process has begun, with much difficulty and disruption from the Secretary’s office and some residents. The process aims to make community-wide decisions about the best way to move forward.
- A group of Auroville architects has come together in a collaborative Dreamweaving urban planning project, with the help of India’s esteemed architect B.V. Doshi. The group is working on detailed development plans that weave the ideas of the Galaxy concept, the masterplan, and take into account ground realities. It is hoped that the ATDC will recognise the legitimacy of these plans, although they have not yet committed to implementing the project’s recommendations.
- There has yet to be an apology, or any sense of remorse, from those who support this development (Secretary’s office, ATDC or otherwise) regarding the violence towards people and nature. 900 trees were felled in six short days in December – most of which could have been avoided if the ATDC had agreed to collaborate with the affected communities on their alternative proposals.
- The ATDC, with the support of the Secretary’s office and some Aurovilians continue to make claims that “four times the amount of trees destroyed will be replanted”. None of these people have contacted our tree nurseries to prepare seedlings.
We are trying to organise and keep calm, be rested, and wait with apprehension for news from the court – which is expected to arrive on Jan 6.
We are trying to heal and move forward with compassion and knowledge.
For many who witnessed and experienced the violence first hand, the silence of our friends in this community, and the refusal by the Secretary’s office, the ATDC, and individuals to acknowledge the damage done is painful. Many residents are experiencing PTSD and extreme anxiety, and inability to sleep. However, meaningful steps are being taken to move forward in a positive manner.
What is going on in Auroville?
The current conflict in Auroville is a complex combination of issues: urban town planning, environmental issues, Auroville’s unique governance structure, spiritual beliefs, and the recent silencing of residents.
Despite strong efforts of the community to collaborate on urban planning with the Auroville Town Development Council (ATDC) over past months, the Secretary’s office began sudden bulldozing in two community sites on December 4, without the necessary Work Orders. The aggressive measures continued over the coming days, with some violent scenes, hired enforcers and 900 trees lost. A court Stay Order is now in place until 3 Jan 2022. See our timeline of events.
What is Auroville?
Auroville is an intentional international community in Tamil Nadu, with about 3500 residents from 58 countries. It is globally recognised for its achievements in the fields of ecological agriculture, reafforestation, renewable energies, sustainable architecture, educational practices, collective living and social enterprise. Based on the evolutionary vision of Sri Aurobindo, and founded by the Mother in 1968, Auroville is endorsed by UNESCO as an experiment in human unity.
What is the Master Plan?
In the 1960s, the Mother worked with French architect Roger Anger, to develop a galaxy model for Auroville as a ‘city of the future’. After Mother’s time, this concept was developed over the years into a Master Plan (1999, 2001), which is a conceptual or policy framework, to begin planning. The Master Plan is now 20 years old. It lacks the required Detailed Development Plans (DDPs) which are needed for implementation, and needs to be updated to take into account the present-day ground realities, environmental concerns…
A number of Auroville residents with expertise in town planning have – in the spirit of collaboration – conducted studies and offered their expertise.
What is the conflict about?
The current conflict centres around differing interpretations of the implementation of Auroville’s Master Plan policy framework. Residents largely believe that destruction and development should not take place until the Detailed Development Plans have been completed. The community has requested Auroville’s Town Development Council (ATDC) to collaborate with the community in a meaningful way.
The ATDC and newly-appointed government authorities in Auroville want to rapidly develop the Crown way, which is a proposed 4km circular road. Events escalated in recent weeks, even though two Auroville communities on the Crown way (Darkali, Bliss) had presented their alternative development proposals to ATDC. These alternative proposals showed how the Crown concept could be respected whilst preserving precious forest and water catchment systems that are vital to the whole bioregion. The ATDC – which lacks planning expertise and contains some members appointed in questionable processes – ignored these proposals
What are the environmental concerns?
Auroville is renowned globally for its reafforestation initiatives. Over the last 50 years, the land has been transformed from a barren plateau to a thriving forest ecosystem that spans over 1340 acres, and contains three million trees. In particular, the forests have revived the indigenous Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF), which is a rare type of forest found only in the south-east seaboard of India. Auroville has also developed sophisticated water catchment systems, which aim to contribute to the wider bioregion’s water security, which is under extreme threat. The current authorities’ rapid urban development agenda does not consider these issues, and no formal Environmental Impact Assessment was done before the bulldozing started.
What is Auroville’s decision-making process? How is its governance unique?
Auroville functions under a unique legal framework, enacted by the Indian Parliament: the Auroville Foundation Act (1988). The Act recognises the decision-making role of the Residents’ Assembly (which consists of about 2500 adults in 2021). The Residents’ Assembly and government-appointed Governing Board (represented in Auroville by the Secretary of Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation) are meant to work in harmony together while being interdependent. The Act aims to ensure that there is a balance of power and responsibilities between them. For example, in relation to the Master Plan, it’s understood that neither body has the right to veto the other; decisions should be integrated and brought to cohesion.
However, in recent months, the Secretary of the Governing Board has overridden residents’ concerns and the ongoing collaboration on compromises and is now forging ahead with its selective interpretation and imposition of the Master Plan, and rapid urban development that is not collaboratively planned or ecologically sensitive. The Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly, a group of seven residents whose role is to assist the Residents’ Assembly in carrying its duties, currently has some members who seem to privilege an authoritarian approach over the inclusive and participatory community processes.
Auroville’s aims & ideals
Auroville is based on the evolutionary vision of Indian philosopher and seer Sri Aurobindo, the integral yoga. It was started in 1968 by the Mother. Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.
In recent years, a few community members have developed more extreme views about the Mother’s wish to build a ‘city of the future’. They believe that the execution of the Crown as a ‘perfect circle’ is essential to hasten Auroville’s spiritual development. This crystallised view of the future city contrasts with the approach of many community members who believe that a ‘city of the future’ should be flexible and evolve with time. These underlying disagreements appear to be purposefully amplified by some, to serve disparate agendas.
Silencing Freedom of Speech
On December 7, Outreach Media – Auroville’s long-standing community service that liaises with external media – was notified by the Secretary of Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation that it should “refrain from issuing any statements until further notice”. The Secretary’s office announced that it had appointed two “Official Spokespersons”, without any consultation with the community.
Other aspects of the conflict
There are other aspects to the conflict that are too complex to go into here, including the shadow of larger political agendas, economic aspects, outside land prospecting, and cultural differences within Auroville, which have intensified this difficult situation.
In short, the current conflict in Auroville is complex! You may find some articles on the ‘In the Press’ page, that synthesise some of the aspects in a way that makes sense to you.
This website aims to provide some resources to make the conflictual situation more understandable.
While the content on this website aims to give the perspective of 500+ residents (who signed the Kalabhumi statement on 5 December), the content aims to be as factual as possible.
If you want to support the community’s call for non-violent, sustainable, collaborative urban planning, please follow us on social media and sign the petition: https://linktr.ee/helpauroville