Land Exchange As Part Of Auroville Governing Board’s Drive For Development Worries Citizens

Land Exchange As Part Of Auroville Governing Board’s Drive For Development Worries Citizens

To consolidate the city area, authorities’ controversial land exchanges intensify.

AUROVILLE–Over the past two and a half years, Auroville, an experimental township in Tamil Nadu with a small portion of it falling in Puducherry has witnessed unrest in relation to the issues surrounding the implementation of the Auroville Master Plan. As part of the Auroville Foundation’s drive for development, the privately owned lands in the inner circle of Auroville are extensively exchanged with lands outside it in an ongoing process. The exchanges made in the last year have massively inflated land prices and intensified speculation and encroachments.

Auroville is an experimental, international community located in southern India, established in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, also known as "The Mother”. Auroville aims to be a universal town where people from diverse cultures and backgrounds live together in harmony. It was also called by its founder “the city the Earth needs”, and is famous for its impressive reforestation as well as groundbreaking work in water conservation and sustainable technologies and lifestyle. The central philosophy of Auroville is based on the spiritual teachings of Sri Aurobindo emphasizing human unity, self-discovery, and the pursuit of a higher consciousness.

Kaveri (name changed)*, a resident of Auroville, says, “Auroville is meant to be self-sustaining, and of course, it is more and more important to seek harmony not just within, not just in human society, but with nature—on which the survival of the planet depends.” She, however, notes that, recently, there has been “a strange kind of dichotomy” in Auroville.

Auroville’s residents have noted significant changes in its administration after the last shuffling of the Auroville Governing Board around 2.5 years ago. Farmlands, such as the Auro Orchard, and forest lands, which are not situated within the township’s official Master Plan, a circular area of 5 km diameter, are being exchanged–i.e., given to private parties owning land within Master Plan area. The administration seeks to consolidate the land for developing Auroville in this circular area.

Manisha (name changed)*, another resident, says that the Governing Board is “selling off some of our best assets in the guise of the development and consolidation of the city. While they are doing this, there are many land encroachment issues they are hardly doing anything about.” Kaveri also goes on to say that “it’s going to be very detrimental if the extensive land exchanges are allowed to happen.”

Auroville, Tamil Nadu.

None of the lands in the Auroville area belong to the Auroville Foundation. The administration’s drive to consolidate lands that don’t belong to it has led to increased land speculation and unprecedented inflation of land prices in the Master Plan area. As per the Plan, Auroville is constituted of a circular ‘city’ area surrounding the Matrimandir at the centre, and a concentric green belt around it. Manisha points out, "Auroville has developed all over the place–patches here and there.” She says, “Especially now that there’s a big push for the city, you know plots need to be consolidated.” About a third of the land owned by Auroville, mostly areas dedicated to green work, farms, and afforestation, is outside its official Master Plan. The administration is trying to achieve one contiguous circle by procuring the privately owned land falling in the circle of the Master Plan, totaling about 1000 acres, through exchange with land owned by Auroville that falls outside of it.

The Master Plan, which has many complex issues surrounding its legality, is a document outlining the vision for the community's development. Some individuals, including the Secretary, believe that The Mother approved the Master Plan, while others argue that it was created after her passing. The Master Plan is defined as a policy protocol or vision, not an implementation plan, and it lacks detailed development proposals for the city area. The community-approved Master Plan of 1999 was modified without community endorsement and eventually approved by the Ministry, causing confusion.

There have also been talks by the Governing Board about constructing a wall between the city area and the outer circle. Kaveri says, “First they spoke of a wall, now they are speaking of a barbed wire. At some stage, Mother had an idea of a future city that would be a spiritualised community, and for that community, she said—well, it would be relatively separate from the surroundings and have walls—but that was a completely different ballgame. She would never have spoken of building a wall or a fence around Auroville as it is and as it is growing. So yeah, it is one of those ideas that seriously contradict the purpose and spirit of Auroville as given in its beautiful Charter and by the many comments we have from the Mother.”

According to Manisha, there has been a “massive” push to increase tourism in Auroville in the past 2.5 years. “There has always been the tourism thing, but all the investment (now) is geared towards gaining money from it.”, she states “While they’re destroying wildlife here, they’re building a place where tourists can go and see some cement elephant for 30 rupees. Auroville never wanted to be geared towards tourism. We believe Auroville is something you come and experience; not much for the day-tripper., she adds. In relation to the Master Plan, Manisha says, “We do believe that the Master Plan has to adapt to the reality of the ground, and the Plan itself says that it has to evolve (with time).”

Bharat Mansata, author and activist with deep connections with a few people in Auroville, comments, “All problems are rooted in disharmony, said Sri Aurobindo. The founding vision of Auroville, nurtured by the Mother, envisaged a global community that learned to live in harmony with each other and the earth. Ecological regeneration of the severely degraded land was a primary challenge. People from the Auroville community have done outstanding work in saving, sharing, and teaching the conservation of traditional vegetable seeds. They continue to inspire and guide others on ecological regeneration and harmonious co-existence, so vitally needed in our times. They greatly need to be supported, with minimal external disruption.”

Despite current tensions, Auroville's spirit of unity and higher consciousness, rooted in its unique philosophy, holds the promise of navigating through present difficulties toward a more inclusive and environmentally conscious future.

(*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual.)

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