Auroville treading uncharted terrain amid deadlock over city goal

Ever since the crisis at Auroville began, the universal township has seen midnight protests, hired hands to assist the work of bulldozers, police cases against six Aurovilians, and a legal challenge.

Ever since the crisis at Auroville began, the universal township has seen midnight protests, hired hands to assist the work of bulldozers, police cases against six Aurovilians, and a legal challenge. | Photo Credit: S.S.KUMAR

Auroville may be treading uncharted terrain as the deadlock deepens between the camps for and against the modalities, and the manner, of realising a galaxy-shaped city for the future as envisioned by its founder, The Mother. Since the December protests when a group of residents blocked bulldozers sent in by the township administration to raze trees for developing the Crown Road as part of implementing a long-pending Master Plan (Perspective 2025), a tussle has now emerged over controlling the township’s self governance bodies, including the Residents’ Assembly and the Working Committee (WCom). During what has been period of tumult, the universal township has seen midnight protests, hired hands to assist the work of bulldozers, police cases against six Aurovilians in connection with what authorities complained as an “illegal takeover” of the Wcom assets, and a legal challenge to some actions of the Foundation. While there is a history of serious disagreements between the decisional bodies at the helm of the universal township, some of the recent developments may be unprecedented, and prompt a closer scrutiny of the Auroville Foundation Act, 1988, and its explicit and implicit provisions, vis-a-vis the balance of power among the three entities — the Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation, the Residents’ Assembly and the International Advisory Council. In a new development, a writ has been filed in the Madras High Court by a resident seeking to “forebear the Auroville Foundation represented by its Secretary from interfering with the work of the Residents’ Assembly and their lawful Working Committee”. The court case comes soon after the National Green Tribunal, which was petitioned by a couple of residents citing ecological damage from implementing the Master Plan in its existing form, issued an order on April 28 directing the Foundation to stop tree felling and to go by the advice of a panel of experts for its development plan. In recent weeks, there has been a flurry of claims and counter claims over which seven-member Working Committee is the bonafide entity; the Wcom approved by the Auroville Foundation or a newly-constituted body announced at the culmination of a Residents’ Assembly Decision (RAD) process on May 10. The crisis began when the existing Wcom removed three members for continually “acting against the governing board decisions”, the decision was deemed irregular by the ousted faction as only the Residents Assembly was authorised to remove/elect members to the WC. Subsequently, a RAD process was initiated in spite of the Foundation’s pause notice on decision-making until the Register of Residents was updated, based on the contention that the RAD process was independent of registry work. The RAD culminated in the formation of a new Wcom after removing and replacing the four members of the Foundation-supported entity for their “failure to uphold the interests and safety of the residents”. The Foundation, however, has dismissed the “illegal Residents Assembly Decision process” convened by a small faction of residents holding that it “violates not only the directive of the Governing Board to update the Register of Residents first, but also all agreed-upon internal guidelines for selection of members and their term of office”. A spokesman for the Foundation said: “There are no two factions in Auroville... we only have one group of status quoists rejecting all attempts to revive the long-pending plan to realise the collective goal....which is building a city for 50,000 residents from all over the world as envisioned by The Mother”. The Foundation has also reconstituted the Funds and Assets Management Committee and L’avenir d’Auroville (Auroville Town Development Council) as part of measures to bring transparency, accountability and productive utilisation of assets with the effective participation of residents. After the first consultation of the main working groups (including the Wcom) chaired by Jayanti Ravi, Auroville Foundation Secretary, a collective statement said: “We are all aligned to bring Auroville through this difficult transition phase, and to solve the present stagnancy; putting in front of us one single goal: to manifest Mother’s Auroville”. “Everyone is invited to participate in this new phase of Auroville’s development, as all hands are needed for the scope of the work to build Mother’s City”. Some Aurovilians ask why it should not be possible to achieve the goals without destroying the ethos of Auroville. “Self governance and participatory community processes have been such an integral part of Auroville’s legacy and without these principles, the city for the future would represent a flawed version of what The Mother intended”, an old-timer resident said. Meanwhile, although Auroville has been seeing a few unity meetings on either side of the divide, in an atmosphere of deep polarisation, cynicism and distrust, these assemblies have been more about mobilising support around the differing standpoints on taking the Auroville experiment forward, than bridging the schism.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2022 8:16:19 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/auroville-treading-uncharted-terrain-amid-deadlock-over-city-goal/article65537177.ece