Unblocking the city the earth needs
Auroville was inaugurated in February 1968 with a Charter and a city plan that the Mother, the founder of Auroville, had herself commissioned by inviting the architect Roger Anger.
The denial of Auroville’s raison d’etre and its realisation as a city and the wilful blockade of the Master Plan by an organised group of residents claiming to speak for the whole of the township through misinformation and petitions have brought things to a standstill. Clearing the designated land for the Crown, the main urban path, has been stopped again, taking hostage the rest of Auroville and its hopes for the future. This is as grave as when the Sri Aurobindo Society (SAS) took Auroville to court on wrong claims. Auroville cannot claim to stand for human unity until the city announced to the world in February 1968 is built. The chaotic events in Auroville last week and the organised polarisation are saddening. This needs to be seen with facts so as not to make an error of judgement.
In a gist: Clearing the area once again met with resistance on December 4 after 25 years of discussion and the police had to be called in for the work to proceed. There was no violence and no one was hurt, contrary to what is being broadcast. This well-orchestrated campaign of propaganda and defamations in the name of human unity needs to be examined.
Auroville was inaugurated in February 1968 with a Charter and a city plan that the Mother, the founder of Auroville, had herself commissioned by inviting the architect Roger Anger. She worked with him for three years to come up with a model that was finally approved in January 1968. This came to be known as the Galaxy plan and was displayed prominently at the entrance of Auroville’s amphitheatre, where the Charter was read out, welcoming the citizens of the world at the inauguration. In December 1975, soon after the Mother’s passing, SAS filed an affidavit in the Pondicherry Court claiming, among other things, legal ownership of land. This stretched into a 12-year court case in which the SAS then took the matter to the apex court claiming Auroville was a religious body and, as such, the government could not interfere. These were grave insinuations, threatening the very basis of Auroville and the principles on which it stands: one of them is non-ownership—as land and property belong to Auroville and not to any person(s) or religion. The ‘city the earth needs’ had been clearly defined: “Earth needs a place where men can live away from all national rivalries, social conventions, self-contradictory moralities and contending religions. A place where human beings ... can devote themselves wholly to the discovery and practice of the Divine Consciousness that is seeking to manifest.”
The land bought in the name of the SAS was for building the city, the place to manifest these aims. It needs to be stated that the February 1968 plan had no green belt. The brief to the architect was for an experiment for humanity contained in a city of 50,000 people, envisioned in such a way that there was a place for everything and everyone. Soon after, the architect proposed a green belt to surround the area. The Mother agreed to this provided it was used for agriculture to sustain the town.
Once the case was settled in favour of Auroville and the Auroville Act was passed in Parliament, the land under the ownership of SAS was handed over to the Auroville Foundation. The early years saw dedicated work to regenerate the barren and arid terrain and slowly turn it into a green and fertile land. Much more happened in areas of renewable energy, water, education and culture but these are not immediately visible. With the coming of the Foundation Act, certain processes were put in place by the Governing Board, like the Master Plan needed for the development of this unique city. This brought the first open resistance against the Plan. But after two years of dialogue, there was near unanimous agreement and the process was followed through with approvals and the Plan was published in the Gazette of India in 2010.
Strangely, the narrative on Auroville began to shift even as the Plan was being formulated and the media messaging morphed from the ‘city of the future’ to assertions of eco-village, forest city and sustainability. This shrunk and changed paradigm went unnoticed at first, till it became a small but dominant lobby interfering with the development of the city. Despite the Auroville Town Development Council (ATDC) being in place and key elements of the Master Plan being ratified by the whole Residents Assembly, which included the Crown, development has been stalled for 20 years citing environmental and topographical concerns, without offering proposals that would successfully integrate with the plan and its intent, and not prevent or distort it.
In the interim years, trees were planted over sections of the Crown, making it inaccessible for Aurovilians. Then, blockade of work on the Plan area became a pattern and land ownership came into practice under the excuse of trees. Areas designated for the city under the Plan were taken over without processes or permissions and trees were planted without consultations. This was then declared as a forest and appropriated. While it has been common to hear declarations of support for the city plan in public, it has been met with stonewalling in practice. This includes matters regarding Auroville’s detailed development plans and its land protection that have been repeatedly and systematically stalled with excuses for further studies and dialogues.
Unfortunately, the section of youth now all over the media have been misled for years. Given the lack of education regarding the project, they have come to believe that nothing should be done to harm the ‘forest’. The Youth Centre was placed where it is now on a temporary basis with documented agreements that no buildings would be built there and no obstruction would be made for the road construction. All these agreements have been flouted and obstruction has become the norm, prompted by adults. This has only legitimised the impunity of these actions.
Auroville has planted three million trees, roughly 1,000 per present population. For the trees removed, replantation of 4–10 times is planned in Auroville’s green zones. What is an internal matter for Auroville has been blown out of proportion claiming external threat. This conflict, orchestrated via media and petitions, targets people who do not agree with them. These people are then labelled as ‘enemies’ in the name of human unity. This needs to be debunked.
Long-time resident of Auroville and author of Auroville: A City for the Future