Why the resistance against the Auroville “Couronne” project is not justified
Residents of Auroville are protesting the Crown Road project. Photo: @ GijsSpoor / Twitter
- Auroville was inaugurated in February 1968 with a charter and an urban plan that its founder, Mirra Alfassa, had commissioned from the architect Roger Anger.
- The final attempt to block the work is to request an EIA before completing the remaining work on the Crown and amending the master plan.
- Given that more than 40% of the Crown is already complete, the latest demand from opponents of the project becomes all the more questionable, writes one resident.
The clearing of the Crown, Auroville’s main urban route, again encountered resistance after 25 years of discussions and waiting, on December 4. The police had to be called to move the work forward. There was no violence and no one was injured, as alleged.
Those chaotic events and the organized polarization of the community were deeply saddening. A fact check is the need of the hour.
Auroville cannot claim to defend “human unity” as long as the city announced and promised to the world in February 1968 is not built with agreements and concord.
Auroville’s refusal to realize itself as a city and the voluntary blocking of the master plan by an organized group that claims to speak for all of Auroville, through disinformation and petitions, have crippled things. Clear the land designated for Auroville Crown project was halted, again taking the rest of Auroville and its hopes for the future hostage. It is as serious as when the Sri Aurobindo Society (SAS) sued Auroville on the basis of false allegations in 1975.
Thus, this orchestrated campaign of propaganda and defamation, in the name of human unity, must be examined.
Auroville over the years
Auroville was inaugurated in February 1968 with a charter and an urban plan that the Mother – Mirra Alfassa, the founding spiritual leader of Auroville – had herself commissioned, by inviting the architect Roger Anger. She worked with him for three years to come up with a model which was finally approved in January 1968. This became the Plan Galaxy and was prominently displayed at the entrance to the Auroville Amphitheater, where the Charter was then read, welcoming the people of the world.
In December 1975, shortly after the mother’s death, SAS filed an affidavit in a Pondicherry court claiming, among other things, legal ownership of the land. The trial would span 12 years during which the SAS took the case to the Supreme Court, claiming that Auroville was a religious body and, as such, the government could not intervene.
These were serious innuendo, threatening the very foundation of Auroville and the principles on which it rests: non-ownership – for land and property belong to Auroville and not to any person or religion.
The “City the Earth needs” was clearly defined:
“Earth needs a place where people can live away from all national rivalries, social conventions, conflicting morals and rival religions. A place where human beings, freed from all slavery of the past, can devote themselves entirely to the discovery and practice of the Divine Consciousness which seeks to manifest itself. Auroville wants to be that place… ”
The land purchased in the name of the SAS was intended for the construction of the city, the place of manifestation of these objectives. It must be said that the February 1968 plan did not have a green belt. The architect’s specifications were an experience for humanity contained in a city for 50,000 people envisaged in such a way that there is a place for everything and for all, and a balance of urban area with more than 50 % of vegetation cover. Soon after, the architect also proposed a green belt around the city. The Mother accepted this on the condition that it be used for agriculture to support the city.
Once the dispute has been settled in favor of Auroville and the Auroville Foundation Act adopted in parliament, the land belonging to the company Sri Aurobindo was handed over to the Auroville Foundation for the development of the proposed city and to carry out its life and activities.
Auroville started out on a vast arid land that by standard logic would not be suitable for such a daring project. This did not prevent the project from moving forward with the aim of finding the most innovative or direct solutions to the most material and spiritual problems of the Earth and of humanity. This is the scope of the Auroville Charter.
The early years saw dedicated work to regenerate the land and slowly make it green and fertile. Much more happened in the areas of renewable energy, water, education and culture, but these were not immediately visible. With the advent of the Auroville Foundation Act, certain processes were put in place by the board of directors, such as the Master Plan, necessary for the development of this unique city.
This led to the first open resistance against the city plan. But after two years of dialogue, near unanimous agreement was reached and the process continued with the approvals and master plan published in the India Gazette in 2010.
“A lobby responsible for blocking development in Auroville”
Unfortunately, the narrative around Auroville began to change even as the master plan was formulated and media messages about Auroville shifted from “City of the future” to claims of an eco-village, a forest town, sustainability and lifestyles. At first this shrunken and changed paradigm went unnoticed until it grew into a small but dominant lobby interfering with the development of the city.
Despite the master plan in place and its key elements ratified by the Residents’ Assembly, which included the Crown, development in the city was stalled for more than 20 years due to issues with trees, the environment and topography. Those who opposed development did not come up with proposals that would fit successfully into the Plan.
The intervening years saw trees deliberately planted on sections of the Crown, making it inaccessible to Aurovilians. Blocking work on key sections of this Plan area had become a model. Land ownership came into practice under the excuse of trees. The areas designated for the city under the master plan were taken over without processes or permissions. In the process, trees were planted without consulting the plans for the area; and the area was declared forest.
As we came to hear statements of support for the city plan in public, it encountered stone walls in practice. This includes questions regarding Auroville’s detailed development plans, its land protection and roads which have been repeatedly and systematically blocked with apologies for further study, dialogue or process.
The latest attempt to block the work is the request for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before completing the remaining work on the Crown and even modifying the master plan. Given that more than 40% of the Crown is already completed as well as buildings funded by the Indian government, the latest demand from opponents of the project becomes all the more questionable. Retaining the Crown would mean blocking new pedestrian-friendly mobility, adding to pollution, delaying the urban center of Auroville and increasing the financial burden.
Changing a conventional municipal plan may be possible through conventional means, but a visionary charter backed plan to conduct an experiment is a whole different matter.
Auroville already has three million trees, or about 1,000 trees per person of the current population. For felled trees, replanting is planned in the green areas of Auroville. On the other hand, Auroville’s work on renewable energies remains exemplary.
Sadly, some of the youth have been influenced and misled by all of this for years. Some of them have very different feelings about everything that is going on, but are too intimidated to speak up. Given the lack of education regarding the project they inhabit, they have come to believe that nothing should be done to harm the “forest”.
The Youth Center was placed where it is now, on a temporary basis, with documented agreements that no buildings would be built there and no obstructions would be made when the road came. All of these agreements have been flouted for obstruction. Not collaborating has been the norm over the years, prompted by some. This only legitimized the impunity of these actions.
What should have been an internal affair for Auroville has now been disproportionate by the allegations of external threat. This “conflict” orchestrated through media and petitions and the targeting of people they see as “enemies” in the name of human unity must be debunked and the future unlocked.
Anu Majumdar has lived in Auroville for a long time and is the author of Auroville: a city of the future.