Summary – November 2023 to January 2024

The aggressive takeover of Auroville – which started more than two years ago after the appointment of a new Governing Board and its Secretary, Dr Jayanti Ravi – has intensified in the last few months. Previous issues of Voice of Auroville have covered these events up until October 2023, a summary of which can be found here.


Recent news from Auroville has been shocking, alarming, and threatens Auroville’s existence as a place for experimentation, dedicated to the growth of human consciousness according to the teachings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The Office of the Secretary to the Governing Board (also called ‘Auroville Foundation Office’ or AVFO) and their appointees have continued to bulldoze Auroville’s natural resources and social fabric while appropriating the community’s funds and assets and muzzling any objections. Here is an overview of events from November 2023 to January 2024.

Governing Board’s takeover of Auroville escalates

The Auroville Foundation is an autonomous body made of three authorities (the Governing Board, the Residents’ Assembly and the International Advisory Council) which are meant to work together, in collaboration and mutuality. However, the current Governing Board and its Secretary have been taking over all aspects of Auroville’s administration, decision-making and development, ignoring voices of the Residents’ Assembly and International Advisory Council, and seizing control of functions far beyond its mandate.

Taking control over who joins Auroville, and who should leave

One such change pertains to the admission of new people into Auroville and the exit process for residents to be asked to leave. Until now, these matters were handled by committees constituted by the Residents’ Assembly. Indeed, the Auroville Foundation Act of 1988 clearly stipulates that allowing admission and termination of Auroville residents is a responsibility of the Residents’ Assembly. Moreover, the Mother had clearly stated in 1971 that “only those who have resolved to stay in Auroville for good have the right to intervene in its organisation”. Bypassing this law that was unanimously voted by the Parliament of India, and ignoring Mother’s guidelines, the Governing Board has published in the Gazette of India a new set of Regulations pertaining to Admissions & Terminations, without any consultation with the Residents’ Assembly.

According to these December 2023 Regulations, all matters relating to admissions in Auroville and the termination of Auroville residents would be dealt with by a new “scrutinising” committee of 5 members, appointed by the Governing Board. Only two members of this committee need to be Auroville residents, other positions likely being filled by officers nominated by the Governing Board. This new committee’s responsibilities would extend not only to Aurovilians and Newcomers, but also to volunteers visiting Auroville for a shorter duration.

The Governing Board, by publishing these new Regulations, grants itself the exclusive right to decide who is allowed to live in Auroville, and also who should be removed from Auroville. Based on the AVFO’s track record over the last two years (Those who do not align with it are regularly harassed through refusal of visas, fabricated police complaints, repeated account audits, or loss of housing and monthly stipends), the implication is that all those who express disagreement with the current administration will sooner or later be expelled from Auroville, and new residents whose views or interests are aligned with the current administrative culture will become fast-tracked Aurovilians. This would undoubtedly imperil Auroville’s sociocultural diversity and the free expression of wide-ranging perspectives.

Shortly after these Regulations were published, the Residents’ Assembly resolved to refuse these new Regulations as they are inconsistent with the Auroville Foundation Act and are an overreach of powers by the Governing Board. Nonetheless, the AVFO locked the offices and blocked online accounts and files of the existing community-appointed Entry Service and Board (operational for over 35 years). The Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly and other Auroville residents approached the Madras High Court, seeking to uphold residents’ rights in deciding matters related to admission and termination. The cases were admitted by the court; hearings on these new matters are currently ongoing and a judgement is hoped for soon.

Breaking News: On 23rd February, the Madras High Court passed an interim order to ‘stay’ the new Regulations, which means they can not be applied, and everyone must await the final court judgement. This is expected in the coming weeks. The stay also applies to the new Working Committee regulations (see next section).

Silencing and controlling representatives of the Auroville residents

Over the past two years, the AVFO has flagrantly exceeded its authority by creating its own parallel groups to replace all of the Residents’ Assembly’s important committees. Residents and their Working Committee have approached the Madras High Court in an effort to affirm the legitimacy of resident-appointed committees, such as the statutorily elected Working Committee whose mandate is to represent the voice and interests of the Residents’ Assembly. While the matter is still in the Courts, the Governing Board gazetted in January 2024 a new set of Regulations, giving itself the full authority over the Selection of the Working Committee. These new Regulations, if applied, would effectively and permanently silence the voice of the Residents’ Assembly. Auroville’s residents are profoundly distressed, as these new Regulations appear to contradict and contravene the spirit and letter of the Auroville Foundation Act, which was in itself crafted to protect residents’ freedom to participate in the management of Auroville, and to legally enshrine the Auroville Charter. The Act states:

“(2) The Working Committee shall consist of not more than seven members to be chosen by the Residents’ Assembly from among themselves.
(3) 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.”
– Auroville Foundation Act (1988), Section 20

The Residents’ Assembly has formally rejected these new Regulations and restated its role in appointing its own representatives. The Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly also approached the courts to uphold the Residents’ Assembly’s decision and right to appoint its own representatives, as per the Auroville Foundation Act.

More shocking plans for the future

With so many vital aspects of Auroville under attack and a barrage of new measures and policy announcements by the AVFO, this section lists just a few of the many concerns in a constantly shifting landscape.

After nearly a year of information blackout, the minutes of four Governing Board meetings were finally made available due to Right to Information legal requests. These meeting minutes list a series of shocking fait accompli actions and future plans, such as the Governing Board’s project to erect a barbed-wire fence around Auroville’s city centre which would separate the city from its Greenbelt, neighbours and bioregion. The meeting minutes also feature plans to allocate some Auroville land and assets to external institutions, transforming Auroville into an institutional and income-generating campus in the hands of private interests.

Recent meeting minutes of the Governing Board’s Finance Committee have also been published. These minutes mention a loan of 132.1 crores (15.8 million USD) for housing development in Auroville, which would need to be repaid with interest “by future residents of Auroville through their monthly maintenance scheme”. No calculations are mentioned to explain how future residents should manage to both survive on a monthly maintenance (a modest stipend) and also repay a massive community loan. Nor do the minutes mention any discussion of the possible consequences if future residents are unable to repay this loan or what collateral will be or has been offered for the loan.

Chairman, Secretary and member of the Governing Board, 10th August 2022
Clearing at Revelation Forest sanctuary, December 2023
General Meeting on the new Admission and Termination Regulations at Kalabhumi, January 2024
Results of the Residents’ Assembly Decision on the new Working Committee Regulations, February 2024

Disposing of outlying Auroville lands at a massive loss

The considerable patchwork of Auroville lands has been purchased over decades. Residents and wellwishers worldwide have donated their personal funds to acquire small and large land parcels in the Master Plan area. Other parcels of land, outside of the Master Plan area, had been bought earlier by devotees, following the initial much larger plan given by the Mother, and have been an integral part of Auroville in many significant aspects. Today, the Auroville Foundation owns about 3400 acres of land, over 900 of which are located outside of the Master Plan area. The land parcels within Auroville’s city centre and greenbelt are far from consolidated, and land values have also skyrocketed due to speculators. Still, Auroville has been able to steadily increase its land holdings through the generosity of private donors. To be clear, no government has ever provided funds for land purchase.

Recently, under the rationale of consolidating lands within Auroville’s city centre, the AVFO started exchanging outlying lands that belong to Auroville. However these exchanges took place in an opaque manner, at highly unfavourable rates, without consulting the Aurovilians living or working on the land, or the Residents’ Assembly. Auroville has incurred huge financial losses as a result.

Let’s take a couple of examples.

AuroOrchard is the oldest and one of the most productive organic farms of Auroville. Purchased, named and blessed by the Mother herself in 1966, AuroOrchard has always served its explicit purpose: that of growing food for Auroville. However, in November 2023, 10 acres of the farm – including much of its vital infrastructure and the residence of two Aurovilians – were given by the AVFO to a land speculator in exchange for some of his dispersed plots in Auroville’s city and greenbelt areas. AuroOrchard’s steward, who was appointed by the Mother in 1969, and the team of Aurovilians working on the farm were not informed and only found out the extent of the exchange when the new owners began clearing and fencing the area. Furthermore, the current value of the land acquired by Auroville through this exchange is significantly less than that of AuroOrchard’s 10 acres, and the loss for Auroville in this exchange alone is valued at 50 to 90 Crore rupees (6 to 10.8 million USD). In December 2023, an additional 2.5 acres of AuroOrchard were given away by the AVFO, and 4 more are now under negotiation – definitively destroying what the farm has achieved and developed over the past 50 years.

Another example is that of Pebble Garden. Founded in 1994 by Aurovilians Bernard and Deepika, Pebble Garden is a testament to ecological restoration on previously eroded land, demonstrating the viability of sustainable agriculture without external inputs or hired labour. It features a forest of over 200 indigenous species, endangered tree groves, and a seed conservation garden. Co-founder Deepika Kundaji received the Nari Shakti Puraskar Award in 2018 from the President of India himself; and Bernard founded ARISE, India’s first network for organic farming, in 1994, and is widely respected among peers and experts. Both Deepika and Bernard’s achievements have made Pebble Garden a leading example in Tamil Nadu and in India. However, the AVFO negotiated in secrecy to exchange its lands. The planned exchange has not yet been settled, but it is clear that it imperils Pebble Garden’s crucial assets, including its main water sources and harvesting ponds.

In both these cases, some of Auroville’s exemplary projects and vital assets are under existential threat. These land transactions not only compromise Auroville’s central infrastructure but also strike a blow to Auroville’s vital efforts towards food security and ecological restoration work. And these may be just the beginning.

A document made public via a Right to Information legal proceeding reveals the AVFO’s intentions to exchange much of Auroville’s outlying lands – which equate to more than 900 acres of Auroville land located outside of the Master Plan area. This includes areas such as Auromodele, the Auroville Health Centre, Quiet Healing Centre, Sri Ma beach, Eternity beach, several restaurants and industrial compounds, most of Auroville’s farms, Sadhana Forest and many other reforested areas, among others. All these land exchanges incur huge losses to Auroville, which suggests lack of due process, questionable agendas and begs the question: Who is really benefiting?

These land parcels play unique roles in making Auroville a special place, and they all are home to Aurovilians. Without plans to relocate the current inhabitants, it would appear the AVFO has no concern for the well-being of Aurovilians who have spent decades developing and nurturing these sites.

On 24th November, the private party that became the new owner of the AuroOrchard land came and started clearing portions of the land, including food-producing trees.
In January 2024, Auroville residents and farmers celebrated Pongal under the AuroOrchard Banyan tree, possibly for the last time
Pebble Garden in December 2023, after the monsoon rains.

Massive tree clearing following Supreme Court stay

In the last two months, Auroville residents have witnessed unprecedented levels of destruction, particularly tree cutting and land clearances. The speed and scale of the destruction has shocked residents and supporters around the world.

On 13th December 2023, following an appeal by the AVFO, the Supreme Court placed an ‘interim stay’ on the National Green Tribunal’s 2022 verdict. This new decision effectively overturned the National Green Tribunal’s previous directive that the AVFO must seek Environmental Clearance and proper township planning before continuing the development of Auroville.

With the previous protections now temporarily removed, it appears that the AVFO is interpreting this most recent verdict as a licence to indiscriminately destroy parts of Auroville and to ignore the need for proper planning and environmental impact assessments – as required by Auroville’s Master Plan. The AVFO’s latest actions also ignore the decision taken by the Residents’ Assembly in January 2022 to pause development on the Crown, Outer Ring Road, and connecting Radials until proper plans are created.

Since 13th December, tree cutting, land clearances and fence removals have taken place in Auroville settlements such as Centre Field, Transition, Revelation, Youth Centre & Bliss, Aurovelo, Anitya, Sve Dame, Samriddhi and the southern Service Node. In some cases, workers did not know where vital community infrastructure lay and damaged important water pipes and telephone/internet cables.

On 4th January, many of the trees lining a 1500 metre stretch of the already built Crown Road were suddenly felled. No prior warning was given and no safety measures were in place. A number of residents narrowly averted accidents as large trees suddenly crashed on roads and paths.

There seemed to be no logical reason to remove these trees, which had been planted by Aurofuture, the planning group of Auroville’s Chief Architect Roger Anger, with grants from the European Commission.

“It is with a deep feeling of shock and dismay that we have received the news of the recent unjustified massive tree felling in Auroville … We believe that this is one action too far against which all Aurovilians, friends of Auroville and also Ecology’s and Nature’s friends must speak out.
– Letter by the Auroville International Board, 6th January 2024

No information has been formally shared with Aurovilians about the larger purpose for the widespread and sudden land clearances, although government-employed workers on the ground have stated the intention is to clear space for all of the ‘right of ways’ for the Crown, Outer Ring Road and connecting Radials. This despite much of the necessary land still being privately owned by outsiders and the fact that the plans appear to deviate in many respects from any existing Master Plan for Auroville.

Tree cutting and land clearing also recently took place at two Auroville farms to make way for a VIP road into Auroville, and an area approximately the size of two football fields has been cleared allegedly for a large visitor car park. The car park and the VIP road are not elements of the Auroville Master Plan.

Despite objections by the Residents’ Assembly, by members of the International Advisory Council and by the Auroville International Board, the indiscriminate land clearing and tree cutting continues.

Tree cutting along the planned Crown, January 2024

Drastic livelihood cuts continue

At least 170 residents have been affected by the AVFO’s sudden cancellation of their already modest monthly stipends. This leaves them unable to cover living costs, and yet they are now also expected to start paying the 3800 rupees monthly city services contribution from their own pockets (even residents who had previously been granted a regular waiver). Budgets for certain services have been cut, even though such budgets have until now been decided by residents and are generated by individual residents’ contributions and income-generating units. For example, changes to educational and cultural budgets for the upcoming financial year mean that a number of people and units working in the field of education, arts and culture will have their budgets and stipends partially or totally cut, and will need to find new sources of funding. Some performance artists were told that their stipends would be cut if they did not commit to performing at Bharat Nivas next year – a venue which has been effectively taken over by the AVFO, and has started to charge an entrance fee to some of its events. The principle of free access to arts and culture, a unique asset of Auroville, is progressively being wiped out.

It now appears that the AVFO appointees will apply this sudden change in policy to all Auroville units and their employees, centralising all stipends and budgets, even for income-generating units. Such units, which have been self-managed for decades, will most likely now be micromanaged and subjected to further cuts.

This is increasingly worrisome when one observes the way Auroville’s funds have been (mis)managed over the past year, with opacity and no accountability. For instance, 100 forest workers have been left without stipends or salaries since June 2023, after the budget supporting Auroville forests was completely slashed by appointees of the AVFO. About 40 Aurovilians and 60 local forest employees were fired en-masse from one day to the next, and left without pay. Additionally, AVFO appointees have refused to pay ‘gratuities’ to the employees, which has been the Auroville practice after employment is terminated. (A gratuity corresponds to a portion of salary for each year of employment.) The Forest Group has pointed out that the Office’s non-payment of the workers is “untenable legally and morally”.

Tree cutting and clearing along a planned Radial road, January 2024

Privatising and outsourcing Auroville’s health sector

Recent Governing Board meeting minutes make note of the Board’s intention to outsource the management of much of Auroville to private companies and institutions, and to allocate Auroville land and assets to external entities which are unrelated to Auroville. In fact, the AVFO is already moving to outsource Auroville’s health sector. On 30th January 2024, the AVFO published on its website a notice inviting private hospitals to share their “expression of interest” in operating and managing a new Auroville hospital. The management would be given to the best bidder, with the purpose “to set up a fully functional allopathic clinic inside Auroville”. Alarmingly, the notice adds that “Auroville will provide a building to run the hospital”, and that “the health facility will be set up in the existing building of Auroville and there will be no requirement for construction of any new building for this purpose”. It is not mentioned which assets would be repurposed, however sources indicate that some members of existing health facilities – such as Sante and Arka, which are both dedicated to holistic medical approaches – have already been approached.

This move is the first of its kind to privatise the health sector in Auroville and to outsource activities related to the health of Aurovilians to a private clinic. It is also a move away from integrated health care as is currently offered to Aurovilians seeking a balance between allopathic medicine and holistic approaches.

Santé, which offers holistic health solutions for Aurovilians, might be taken over and repurposed to fit the agenda of creating an allopathic hospital managed by private parties.

Transforming Auroville into a place for spiritual tourism

Over the last months, the AVFO has organised a number of large events at Auroville premises without involving the larger community. This includes a week-long ‘Shakti Kumbh’ – a paid event which appropriates Auroville’s spiritual heritage. This also includes a “Spiritual Summit” and a one-week student programme under Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat, an official educational curriculum of the Government of India. Earlier in December, Auroville’s Savitri Bhavan had covertly hosted an event for a politically-affiliated youth group, raising concerns about threats to Auroville’s apolitical nature. In most of these events, ‘spiritual’ figures unrelated to Auroville and active political personalities were in the list of presenters.

Meanwhile, the Visitors Centre (taken over by the AVFO in April 2023) started distributing new flyers with misleading information to visitors and guests. A new “wildlife” museum in the Bharat Nivas compound presents clay statues of panthers to tourists while the forest habitats of Auroville’s diverse living wildlife are being bulldozed and razed. More recently, the Bharat Nivas team announced that a pure silver miniature replica of the recently-inaugurated Sri Ram temple of Ayodhya in northern India would be displayed in the Bharat Nivas compound – the first time a religious icon would be publicly displayed in Auroville. This is questionable considering Auroville’s explicit intention to be a spiritual but not religious township.

December 2023, on the visitors’ new pathway to the Matrimandir

Miscellaneous news

Matrimandir Lake: The digging and construction of the Matrimandir Lake is ongoing (see Voice of Auroville 4 for more information). In response to this, a task force was created to formulate an alternative proposal for the lake that respects the Mother’s original statements while maintaining an ecological balance. This proposal is expected soon.

Crown Road: The building of the Crown Road has continued at a slow pace, with most efforts invested in undoing existing roads and clearing and felling trees on the Rights of Way. Development contractors are engaged without proper tendering processes. There is no transparency as to who benefits from excavated materials and wood from the thousands of felled trees.

Important documentation: The Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly recently published a report called Decades of Dedication by the Auroville Community, which looks into the development of Auroville’s tangible and intangible assets over the years. It has also released three dossiers on the ongoing takeover of Auroville. These dossiers offer a detailed chronology of events and takeovers that Auroville residents have been faced with since July 2021. These dossiers are: (1) Takeover of Auroville’s Internal Governance, (2) Censorship & Takeover of Communication Platforms, and (3) Mismanagement of Auroville Assets & Finances, Natural & Human Resources. They are all available here.

Extracted from Voice of Auroville, Issue 05, February 2024

Service trees blooming along the Crown road, before 2022. All these trees have been cut by AVFO appointees in January 2024.