Design of a new chapter

With development and aesthetics at its core, an experimental universal township is slated to come up in Auroville soon, writes Deepak Jhaas he shares his impressions from his visit to the center

Four decades ago when the world was still contemplating on alternate fuel resources with no electric vehicles in sight, the township visualized by internationally acclaimed ‘Auroville Foundation’ had rolled out battery propelled two wheelers. Considered technically as the first settlement of the modern world to take care of ecosystem with instances like tar-coal free lanes, solar cooking system, waste disposal and many more, Auroville now looks forward to realize the dreams of Indian philosopher, nationalist, poet, seer Sri Aurobindo espoused by his great disciple, Mirra Alfassa, christened as ‘The Mother’ — a French national who chose India and the ideals of Aurobindo her home.

Very soon a township nestled in lush greens, with vertical and horizontal growth, will come to terms with modernity yet with the sole essence of spirituality for an anticipated population of 50,000.

The Government of India (GOI) is manifesting the Auroville Galaxy City with complete reverence. Yet it will have start up hubs, a center of the ICCR and many more which the spiritual corner of the southern India can look forward to in few years time.

Nevertheless to run their economy ideals of Auroville continues with the age old barter system with on use of currency in the premises that has residents from across 59 countries with population of about 3500. Auroville in the international township spread in parts of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry institutionalised by the vision Sri Aurobindo and ‘The Mother’.

Now post celebrations of 50th anniversary (that fell on February 28, 2018) and visitors in President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who expressed their ‘keen’ for “expansion” of ‘The Auroville’, the foundation with complete support from the GOI is toileting hard to finally establish Galaxy Master Plan that has for over five decades remained inscribed on topo-sheets in their beautiful museums in the Auroville. The Auroville Master Plan is based on a galaxy model developed in the 1960s by French architect Roger Anger, in collaboration with the Mother.

Founded in 1968 Auroville currently has a population of 3,200 people, with the Auroville Foundation owning 3,300 acres of land and the current plan, known as the Galaxy Plan for a complete city of 50,000 residents. According to the Master Plan, the ‘Galaxy’ is planned to be 20 square kilometres in size, of which five sq km are to be the city and 15 sq km are to be the ‘green belt’.

The brick and mortar city is planned to have four zones: residential, cultural, industrial and international. Apart from this, there will be the ‘Crown’, which the Master Plan defines as “a special use zone, which traverses all the four zones in a concentric fashion with a width of 75 meters, consisting of a circular road with buildings facing it .”

The confidence is writ large on majority of the residents in the premises to continue with Kovind’s and Modi’s message to the community in which they called Sri Aurobindo “one of modern India’s greatest sages”. Kovind wrote that Auroville “represents humanity’s aspiration for peace and goodwill” and that it is “a unique symbol of human unity.” Modi expressed his wish that Auroville may continue developing and supporting new and creative ideas for India and the whole world.

But the town planning received hiccups since last few months with a section of the Aurovillans not keen on the “growth’ of Auroville arguing the ‘expansion’ is against the very ideals of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Nevertheless earthmovers creeped in the green and razed over 900 trees across 67 acres to develop 4.3 km long “Crown Corridor Project”.

The Crown Corridor Project was notified by Central Government in 2001 as part of the Mother’s ‘Auroville Universal Township Master Plan — Perspective 2025’, which was accepted by the Residents Assembly in 1999 and notified in the gazette in 2010.

Those protesting the move are for conserving the forest and water catchment that are significant to the locality, while those in favorite say less than five percent of the greens will be affected which in turn will nurture a 100 for every single tree felled. The aggrieved residents have petitioned the National Green Tribunal (NGT) of South Zone, based in Chennai and able to get stays against any project construction.

The project is a 75-metre-wide ring road through as envisaged by Auroville’s Town Development Council (ATDC), Auroville Foundation, and newly-appointed government authorities.

The body was taken over by the Central government in 1980 through the Auroville Emergency Act, 1980, and it was granted autonomy under the Auroville Foundation Act passed in 1988 under the UNESCO division of the then Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), now Ministry of Education. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had developed a special bonding with the ‘Mother’ whom she met during her first visit to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram with her father the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955 and again when she visited the Ashram in when Mother left for heavenly Abode in 1973.

In the last few months, the proposed township received a fillip after Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi, Puducherry Lt Gov Tamilisai Soundararajan, and Gujarat cadre IAS officer, Dr Jayanti Ravi, took over as the chairman, member and secretary of the Governing Board of Auroville Foundation respectively. The Center also doubled its grant to the Auroville Foundation, from `15 crore to `31 crore.

With Jayanti Ravi personally conducting 50 rounds of meetings to bridge the gaps between two sections, she is being looked upon by the Aurovillans for the much-awaited and much-needed change. “The increase is in view of the festival which would be an annual feature now and also for several projects, including the expansion. We want to see it happen in a 5-10 year window and the budget is `1,100 crore for five years,” shared Jayanti Ravi while discussing issues concerning the Auroville Foundation, the politics and the expansion.

“We have sent a land acquisition proposal to the Revenue Department, to the collector and had meetings with the Secretary of Revenue in Tamil Nadu, the Collector, etc. We have 85 percent of land required and remaining 15 percent will be allocated soon. We have 8 percent of the proposed population. Eight percent of the population is occupying 85 percent of the land, and this is not feasible. We can’t have 3,200 people living on 3,000 plus acres of land. Once developed all the benefits and schemes of Government of India will roll in,” Ravi, who herself is a scholar and has penned several books, said she.

Speaking on a panel on ‘Practical manifestation of the city and the role of UNESCO and Government of India’ last month, Governor Ravi said “We are witnessing a large number of groups, factions. We are still trapped at a very subordinate level. It has to evolve. But this evolution can’t be done by the government. Mother had given a design of what the township should be like. That is the physical infrastructure of that township and government of India is only doing that part”. The Chairman asserted in his speech his addressing the last day of the one week Auroville Festival with the celebrations of Mother’s Birthday on February 28.

Auroville has its origins in the French language, “Aurore” meaning dawn and “Ville” meaning village/city. At its Annual Conference her in 1964 the Mother passed a resolution for the establishment of a city dedicated to the vision of Sri Aurobindo.

She expected that this experimental “universal township” would contribute significantly to the “progress of humanity towards its splendid future by bringing together people of goodwill and aspiration for a better world”.

One of major attraction on the campus is Matrimandir, a golden metallic sphere in the center of town. Matrimandir, was conceived by Mother as “a symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s aspiration for perfection”. On the occasion of The Mother’s birthday a bonfire is conducted early morning which the Aurobillans call it a ‘Dawn Fire’. What is fascinating about the community is that at the campus, instead of paper and coin currency, residents are given account numbers to connect to their central account. Visitors are requested to get a temporary account and an Aurocard (debit card). Further, the residents make a monthly contribution to the community. They help the community whenever possible by work, money, or kind. The “guest contribution”, or a daily fee paid by the guests of Auroville, constitutes a part of Auroville’s budget.

Although the Government owns and manages the Auroville Foundation, it only finances a small part of Auroville’s budget, which is mainly formed by contributions from Auroville’s commercial units which contribute 33 percent of their profits to Auroville’s Central Fund and by donations. There are guest houses, building construction units, information technology, small and medium scale businesses, producing and re-selling items such as handmade paper for stationery items, organic food, as well as producing its well-known incense sticks, which can be bought in Auroville’s own shop in Puducherry.


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