Filing of police cases against 6 residents unfortunate: Auroville Working Committee

A section of Aurovilians gathered in front of the Town Hall on May 19, 2022 to support the self governance mandate of the  Residents Assembly.

A section of Aurovilians gathered in front of the Town Hall on May 19, 2022 to support the self governance mandate of the Residents Assembly. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In the wake of the police booking six Aurovilians, including five foreign nationals, on a break-in complaint by the Auroville authorities, the Working Committee (WC) issued a statement deploring the filing of First Information Reports (FIRs) as “a very unfortunate and avoidable action” and denied all charges.

On Wednesday, following a complaint lodged by the Auroville undersecretary about an “illegal takeover of records and communication systems” of the WC office, the Auroville police had filed cases against Hemant Lamba, Sauro Mezzetti (Italian), Lisa Neogy aka Renu (Swedish), Michel Grnoff aka Wazo (French), Suryan Stettner (British) and Chali Ginnell (American). They were booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act, including rioting, forgery and computer-related offences.

In the press statement, the WC of the Residents’ Assembly (RA) of the Auroville Foundation said the filing of police cases against residents, including the three duly ratified members of the WC, for an internal dispute was “vindictive” and “against the very spirit of Auroville”. The committee also categorically denied the charges listed against the residents.

The new crisis had been precipitated after a recent split in the seven-member WC into two factions and challenges raised about which group was the bonafide entity. After a group backed by the Auroville Foundation removed three members ostensibly for working against the foundation, the decision was contested on the ground that only the RA was authorised to remove/elect members to the WC.

In spite of a May 8 communique from the Auroville Foundation to pause the RA’s decision-making until a Register of Residents was updated to reflect the current demographics of the Auroville township and that any processes conducted interim would be considered null and void, on May 10, a Residents’ Assembly convened on May 10 and voted to retain the three ousted residents Chali Grinnell, Sauro Mezzetti and Hemant Lamba while removing and replacing the four members backed by the foundation. Matters escalated with the RA-backed group reclaimed what it considered rightful access to the office and refused to hand over the keys “without the necessary legal order or justification being provided”, resulting in the police filing cases based on a complaint from authorities that “unauthorised residents (based on the result of illegal vote) had changed the lock of the two Working Committee offices overnight with no knowledge of the building managers or the office of the Auroville Foundation” and had used “false authority to seize the mailboxes of the Working Committee and circulate messages in the name of the Working Committee to the community and outside authorities”.

The Working Committee on Sunday maintained that though the Residents’ Assembly decision has been challenged by the Auroville authorities, the election of a seven-member WC was very much in accordance with the provisions of the Auroville Foundation Act, 1988 that explicitly state that “the manner of choosing the members of the Working Committee and their term of office shall be such as may be decided by the Residents’ Assembly.”

The WC also said the take-over of internal communication platforms by authorities also go against the Foundation Act, which provides the basic rights to its residents to ‘organise activities relating to Auroville’ and infringed on their “freedom to grow and develop activities and institutions for the fulfilment of the aspirations and programmes envisaged in the Charter of Auroville”.

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Printable version | May 23, 2022 6:44:30 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/filing-of-police-cases-against-6-residents-unfortunate-auroville-working-committee/article65443701.ece