In response to the article published in The Observer on January 16, 2022, titled “Bulldozers, violence, and politics crack an Indian dream of utopia” by Hannah Ellis-Peterson, I, as a resident of Auroville since 1979, wish to provide some insights and perspectives on the issues raised.
I have been an integral part of Auroville, and I’ve operated a unit producing handmade pottery, which has transformed over the years into what we now call Mantra. I’ve also had the privilege of being a land steward, responsible for caring for about 10-11 acres of land within the city’s boundaries. It is important to note that this land plays a role in the context of the “Crown,” a designated area within Auroville.
It has been evident since my arrival in Auroville in 1979 that this land would eventually need development. I’ve been cautious not to plant anything of high value or create issues for future development, a situation that has begun to unfold 42 years later. The land I’ve looked after is characterized by gravelly terrain with a deep ravine. I’ve contributed to its recovery by fencing it off, preventing grazing and tree cutting, and actively engaging in conservation efforts. This approach has been adopted by many land stewards across Auroville. Land stewards have traditionally been individuals who work during heavy rains to divert water flows to enhance conservation efforts. This organic process has been crucial in making Auroville the green haven it is today.
However, there is a divide in perspective within Auroville. While some residents believed that a focus on reforestation would delay or prevent the development of a relatively dense urban area, others were aware that urban development was a part of the long-term plan.
Auroville’s master plan envisions a circular city with spiral arms, referred to as the “Galactic Plan.” The mid-to-late 1990s marked the point where it became clear that laying underground infrastructure, particularly water pipes, was essential. Drilling individual wells wherever necessary was no longer sustainable, as we needed to limit water extraction and prioritize conservation.
Auroville’s unique criterion is that it belongs to all of humanity and, therefore, no one can have individual ownership of land. All Auroville lands are vested in the Auroville Foundation, a corporate body established by the Auroville Foundation Act of 1988, an Act passed unanimously in the Indian Parliament.
In 2012, Cyclone Thane devastated the area, causing extensive tree loss and prolonged electricity outages. This event prompted Auroville to initiate the underground placement of electrical infrastructure. The plan includes harnessing wind energy and distributing it to Auroville. The installation of cables and optical fiber cables initiated a debate between those focusing on geometric perfection and those advocating for environmental preservation.
While the removal of a few trees raises concerns, Auroville residents possess the expertise to mitigate the impact through reforestation efforts. Replacing a 30-year-old tree with a sapling, placed in a suitable location, can ensure that it thrives unhindered. As Auroville moves forward with denser construction, it is important to consider the broader perspective of building the greenest city on Earth.
It is not my intention to write an extensive article on Auroville, but I believe it is essential for journalists to gather in-depth knowledge and information before expressing the opinions of a specific section of Auroville residents.
I recall that in 1996, a group of residents intentionally occupied the circular service road area and planted indigenous trees. Some residents also transformed a catchment pond into winding footpaths along the Crown’s line. It seems contradictory to now claim environmental degradation by developers when some residents participated in similar activities in the past.
In conclusion, it is my hope that responsible journalism maintains high reporting standards and avoids perpetuating a one-sided narrative.
Nobody in Particular