Summary – April, May, June 2023

As temperatures hit extreme highs, Auroville’s usual summer calm was disturbed by the continued heavy-handed approach of the Office of the Secretary of the Auroville Foundation (‘Auroville Foundation Office’ – AVFO) and its appointees. Below is a short summary of what has happened since the release of the first issue of Voice of Auroville.

Takeover of Auroville key services and units

In April 2023, executives of several units and services were dismissed overnight by the AVFO without reason or due process. Their access to their professional mailboxes and financial accounts was removed, and in some instances, employees were also fired without notice or explanation. 

Some of the affected services and units are: the Visitors Centre, which receives and channels tourists visiting Auroville; Ecoservice, which manages waste within Auroville; the Auroville Arts Service, a hub for most Auroville artists; and the Board of the Sri Aurobindo International Institute for Educational Research (SAIIER), the umbrella organisation under which all Auroville schools and other educational and cultural activities function and funds are channelled. Other services that have been threatened with take over include the Auroville Safety & Security Service, which is responsible for responding to emergency and safety concerns within Auroville; and the  Residents’ Assembly Service, which organises all decision-making processes, including selection of community representatives for Auroville. 

In response, the Madras High Court has been approached to nullify these unlawful actions and a verdict is awaited.

On 6th May a silent Unity Walk was organised in support of the executives and workers of services and units whose management had been replaced. Around 150 people attended, despite the AVFO appointees circulating an email that threatened the organisers and participants, stating that they would be “followed up for necessary reprimand”.

Auroville Ecoservice, 2017

Expulsion of dissident voices

In April 2023, the Secretary announced the removal of Maël, an Aurovilian and member of the duly-appointed Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly, from the Register of Residents, using the justification that he had to leave India for visa-related reasons. Hundreds of Auroville residents signed a petition to oppose this arbitrary decision.

Towards the end of June 2023, another long-standing member of the community, Satprem Maïni, an Aurovilian for 34 years and founder of the globally-renowned Auroville Earth Institute, was served with an Exit visa and asked to leave the country within two weeks, following a letter written by the Secretary to the Indian immigration authorities. Satprem had been documenting the substandard works executed by the AVFO’s appointees to build the ‘Crown Road’. A collective letter signed by over 2800 Aurovilians and well-wishers, and over a hundred letters of support from around the globe, have appealed to the highest authorities for this decision to be reconsidered.

Aurovilians walking in solidarity. Auroville Unity Walk, May 2023.

New legal developments

The legal cases filed by Auroville residents and their representatives in the Madras High Court, National Green Tribunal and Supreme Court of India against the AVFO are still in process and final verdicts are awaited. The Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly also filed a new writ petition that requires the AVFO appointees to justify before the court why they are usurping the name ‘Working Committee’. Additionally, two legal notices were sent to the AVFO and their appointees who had repeatedly violated the judgement of the National Green Tribunal by continuing to clear land.

Road ‘works’ continue

After dismantling the existing roads, the AVFO appointees dismantled Auroville’s main roundabout, next to the Solar Kitchen. The lack of clear warning signs, diversions or substantial barriers and poor lighting for night driving demonstrate a lack of concern for the community’s safety and has led to several minor accidents. The paver blocks which were previously used for Auroville roads are being replaced by large concrete slabs which have a calculated carbon footprint of 952% more than the previous roads, and which do not allow for rainwater to percolate and recharge the aquifers. This is in direct contradiction to Auroville’s effort towards sustainable development.

Auroville Solar Kitchen roundabout area, 28th April 2023.

Clearing protected areas

From the first week of June 2023, appointees of the AVFO began clearing Revelation Forest, one of Auroville’s largest forests containing protected fauna and flora, in preparation for the creation of an Outer Ring Road. Parts of this clearing work extended into the Sanctuary, an area with no human interference as it is home to local wildlife species that require an undisturbed habitat. This Outer Ring Road is not defined in the Gazetted Master Plan, Perspective 2025, and the feasibility of this road is in question since it would cut through neighbouring villages. Additionally, construction of this road is not permitted until legal requirements imposed by the National Green Tribunal have been fulfilled.

Farms ‘restructured’ without farmers’ consent

The AVFO created a new “Farm Service” to oversee the management of existing Auroville farms, appointing individuals who have little on-the-ground expertise in farming in Auroville. This new service abruptly dismissed the long-standing executives of Foodlink, the Auroville intermediary between farms and end-consumers. It has also stopped all farmers’ monthly stipends, and dismantled the organisational structure that supported the farmers’ rights to gather, share, and organise their own work independently.

Forests' finances cut

In June 2023, AVFO appointees announced that Auroville forests would no longer receive their monthly budgets. This will not only impact the maintenance of these world-renowned forests, it also immediately impacts about 50 Aurovilians who are dependent on their monthly stipends to cover basic survival expenses, and about 60 external workers, who will lose their jobs. Many of these foresters have spent their life savings on the greening of Auroville and the exemplary afforestation work carried out over decades.

Clearing by AVFO appointees on Auroville forested land, April 2023.

New digital services for Auroville

The AVFO took over the email domain in May 2022, and progressively excluded a large number of Aurovilians from using their personal and professional email addresses. As a response, the Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly recently created a new email service, registered under the domain, which is freely accessible to all members of the Auroville community, and which is managed in a transparent and ethical manner. 

Auroville ‘News & Notes’ revamped

In December 2022, the Auroville News & Notes, a weekly gazette for the residents of Auroville, was threatened by the AVFO and began censoring announcements and statements from the committees selected by the Residents’ Assembly. In response, a new “community edition” of the News & Notes was created in April 2023 by the Auroville residents, which is inclusive of all views. This community edition is slowly replacing the old News & Notes, and reaches over 3000 recipients – most of whom are Aurovilians.

Front page of the News & Notes Community Edition, June 2023.
Front page of the News & Notes Community Edition, June 2023.

Youth Center targeted, again

In May, the Auroville International Youth Center had its monthly budget cut by the AVFO appointees, and was asked to stop all activities and told that its team would be replaced. In response, the Youth Center team again expressed goodwill to continue their work to create a Vocational Training Centre for Auroville’s youth but this was ignored once again.

Capitalising on tourism

In June 2023, the AVFO announced its intention to restructure the hospitality sector of Auroville via the appointment of an external hotel consultant, in order to create an “Auroville hotel chain”. This followed the replacement in April of the executives of Visitors’ Center, and the reappointment by the AVFO of a Guest House Trust executive who had previously been dismissed from the role for proven mismanagement. In parallel, an entry fee was requested from tourists visiting Bharat Nivas – the Pavilion of India in Auroville, which had always been a freely accessible public space. All these elements seem to indicate a clear intention to capitalise on tourism.

Early model of the Matrimandir, Auroville Visitors Center.

Residents co-creating the Auroville city

In March 2023, the Town Development Council of the Auroville Residents’ Assembly proposed participative processes to underpin the ‘Detailed Development Plans’ required for city development. Since then, preliminary meetings with different stakeholders have taken place and funding has been received. Residents and their representatives are committed to developing the city of Auroville in a participatory and sustainable way, based on the ideals of Auroville.

Facing future challenges together

As Auroville continues to face these unprecedented challenges, the community continues to aspire for the deep transformational change envisioned by the Mother. Residents, who have committed their lives to the manifestation of its ideals, continue to call for the help and support of well-wishers in India and the world to safeguard and ensure the survival of this highly regarded and unprecedented adventure called Auroville.

Extracted from Voice of Auroville, Issue 02, July 2023

General Meeting of the Auroville Residents' Assembly on participatory planning processes, April 2023.