The Hindu: Aurovillians hold silent protests against clearing of trees for Crown Project

The residents are protesting the building of the Crown Road without due consultations, while the Auroville Foundation that this has been provided for and gazetted in the Auroville Master Plan

Aurovillians on Friday resorted to silent protests in the township as the Auroville Foundation and the Town Development Council pressed into service earth-movers, and started the process of clearing trees in the Dharkali Forest to make way for the future Crown Road (Right-of-Way).

The protests that began at 6 a.m., continued after a stand-off was reported on Thursday between the Resident Assembly and the Foundation while demolishing the Youth Center for the contentious project. A video of the incident has since gone viral.

“Earth-movers arrived at the Youth Centre on Thursday and began to remove buildings and trees on the Right-of-Way at the Youth Center and adjoining forests. The residents, including a few women, were manhandled and threatened by unidentified individuals when they tried to stop the earth-movers. It is learnt that people from outside Auroville were organised en masse to support the clearance work. Despite the tensions, the residents present bore witness while the clearing progressed. Rampant destruction continued, and the Youth Center and other buildings were demolished for the project,” said a member of the Resident Assembly.

“This conflict is centred around differing interpretations of the implementation of Auroville’s Master Plan policy framework. Clearing had started before Detailed Development Plans were formulated and agreed upon by the Residents Assembly and the Governing Board, and this is claimed to undermine the long-standing collective decision-making process of the community,” said another member.

Divya, a resident, in a representation to the Foundation said, “Human unity will not be built by bringing police or goondas from villages. Neither will the city be built this way. You all know that but at this moment are blinded by the narrative of perfect circle and sacred geometry. The Foundation should stop this action and the method you are applying to build the city of Auroville.”

Foundation’s response

Reacting to the flare-up at the Youth Center on Thursday, the Auroville Foundation claimed that some Aurovillians present at the Youth Center tried to physically oppose the entry and the work of the earth-mover and were firmly restrained and moved out of the way by some of the workers.

“Auroville security then helped secure the site and prevent people from coming too close to the earth-movers, and evacuated the structures, ensuring that no harm came to anyone. Indeed, nobody was hurt, even though emotions ran high and discontent was expressed,” said Auroville Foundation’s spokesperson Sindhuja Jagadeesh.

She added that a few temporary shacks and buildings, all built without authorisation, and some trees were removed by the earth-movers to make way for the future Crown Road. This was agreed to by the Residents Assembly in 1999, and was provided for in the approved and gazetted Auroville Master Plan. The work will now continue in the other areas of Auroville, she said.

The spokesperson said that in a meeting chaired by the Secretary of the Foundation on December 6, it was agreed that the residents themselves will dismantle the buildings for the Crown Right-of-Way at the Youth Center, while a site for a vocational centre for youth will be allocated in the township.

“However, when dismantling was supposed to start, a few senior residents met the youth of the Youth Center and asked them not to dismantle the structures. As a result, they did not dismantle the centre and reneged on the agreements made,” Ms. Jagadeesh said.

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