Auroville board to examine NGT stipulations on master plan implementation

Pro-environment groups welcome the order of the tribunal

May 04, 2022 12:43 am | Updated 12:43 am IST - PUDUCHERRY

Tending to view the recent order of the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) as a curate’s egg, the Auroville governing board is likely to evaluate consequences of the NGT’s stipulations for implementing the master plan for a universal township before deciding on the best course to choose.

The sense of relief over the NGT bench setting aside the petitioner’s contention that Auroville was a deemed forest, is mixed with disappointment over the stipulation for obtaining environmental clearance for projects to manifest the future city envisioned by The Mother, who founded the universal township in 1968, sources said.

The NGT had directed the Foundation to prepare the township plan, either in respect of 778 hectares in its possession or in respect of 1963 hectares, visualised by The Mother, by identifying the locations where each zone will have to be located. The plan should also map locations where roads will have to be laid, showing the location of the ring roads with their width and of more roads, if any, to be constructed, the nature of industries and other activities that are likely to be established in the township.

The Foundation should also indicate the number of phases of work and apply for environmental clearance as it will fall under Item 8 (b) of the EIA Notification, 2006, as amended from time to time. “Till then, they (the Foundation) are directed not to proceed with further construction in the project area,” the order had said.

Sources in the governing board expressed surprise that the NGT did not see any merit in the Foundation’s contention that the Ministry of Environment and Forests had clearly said the Auroville city plan did not require EC as the project dated back to 1968 or was being implemented without any modification or expansion. It was also contended, without success, that far from being just a concept note or vision statement, the master plan packed a plethora of detail, diagrams, drawings, dimensions, road layout and lengths.

“It is finally the governing board’s call to decide on the course of action”, an official said.

Meanwhile, the pro-environment groups in Auroville that have been at loggerheads with Auroville’s new governing board over what it saw as the undermining of community processes and environmental concerns in going ahead with a master plan that had not been updated in accordance with the changed topography, welcomed the order. “With this positive outcome in the court, we are looking forward to co-creating new solutions in Auroville,” said environmental sustainability expert and Aurovilian Lakshmi Venugopal.

“We anticipate that the current authorities will cooperate meaningfully with the community to implement these solutions. A large part of the community continues to operate in good faith despite the recent and aggressive actions by authorities.” The verdict brings a huge relief to the international township and is exactly what the residents were hoping for, after authorities suddenly bulldozed 900 trees in December, without permissions.

Auroville residents had long been calling for an integrated approach to urban development, which is environmentally conscious and collaborative and takes into account the ecological realities on ground, a spokesperson said. However, there are some who feel that judicial arbitration of an internal dispute that had driven the community since December, when the new governing board pushed the pedal on the Crown right-of-way by clearing trees, may have shifted the decision-making mandate from one government body to another, further relegating inherent community processes.

The NGT had tasked a joint committee to essentially make an on-the-ground survey and recommend measures to minimise tree loss and explore feasibility of a readjusted alignment and possible engineering solutions, if the proposed road passed through a waterbody.

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