Ramkumar 11 Dec 2021 4:52 PM
The peaceful spiritual township of Auroville in Puducherry witnessed angry clashes between its residents and workers from nearby villages after earth movers were engaged by the administration of the township and the Town Development Council (TDC) to chop trees to make way for an inner ring road. The proposed road plan called Crown project runs through the Dharkali forest region where the Bliss and Youth centre is located. The Auroville residents allege that the decision to fell trees for the project was taken by the Auroville foundation and the TDC without consulting the community.
On Friday, the National Green Tribunal stayed the felling of trees at Auroville after a plea was filed before the regulatory body by Navroz Kersasp Mody, an environmental activist seeking a direction to the TDC to stop the chopping of trees in Auroville. It should be noted that the decision to implement the project was taken at a meeting chaired by the Governor of Tamil Nadu RN Ravi who was appointed as the new Chairman of the reconstituted Governing Board of Auroville Foundation a couple of months ago. Puducherry Deputy Governor Tamizhai Saundarajan and eight others were also appointed as members of the executive committee. The first executive committee meeting attended by new members was held on November 2nd. Following this, the felling of trees for the construction of a road in the Auroville area under the ‘Crown’ project started on the 4th of this month.
The Aurovillians began their protests earlier this month when the Auroville Foundation tried to implement the project undermining a ‘long-standing collective decision-making process of the community.’ The residents argued that cutting down a large number of trees in the Auroville area would be detrimental to the environment. As per Crown project, the 4-km inner ring road would connect all four zones of the model city. However, a section of residents are demanding that the plan be slightly altered keeping ecological concerns in mind.
Speaking with News9, Vasugi, a resident of Auroville said, “The foundation and Town Development Council took the decision on their own without following the community process. Usually, decisions will be made as a community and it’s mandatory to get approval from the Resident Assembly. This process wasn’t followed.” Mobile footage recorded by the residents shows a clash where a section of the residents were allegedly roughed up by locals. The residents allege they were attacked when they tried to stop an earth mover brought to clear the Youth Centre.
“What is going on in Auroville right now is a travesty. The Auroville Foundation is imposing a 20-year-old master plan which hasn’t been updated. Using JCBs against the youth of Auroville, without even showing work orders is absolutely atrocious. We are not against development, but we want development that is ecological and inclusive. Auroville is meant to be a place of human unity. This violent top-down implementation of a rigid plan, ignoring all alternatives suggested for the route, has absolutely nothing to do with human unity,” said Suhasini Lucas, another resident.
“We do not intend to block any kind of development work in Auroville, but only requesting that an alternative way be chosen as many trees may be cut down for the Crown Way project. Trees have already been cut down with the support of police, that is nothing but barbaric. Auroville Foundation cordoned off the entry points to the Youth Centre and police manhandled and detained youth staying there at midnight on last Sunday.” Hemanth, another resident of Auroville, told News9. He also added that the entry of Aurovillians who tried to reach the project site was blocked by police since Sunday. Citing the ecological concerns surrounding the Crown Project, Kundavi, a resident, said, “There is a low-lying area at the head of a watershed. We need to have a plantation and we need to work on how to protect the watershed. You should know that for each tree that will be removed, four trees will be planted.” Auroville is located mostly in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district with some parts in Puducherry. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa – known as “The Mother” to her followers and designed by architect Roger Anger. The vision behind Auroville is that it will become a universal town where people of all countries are able to live in peace and unity by rising above creeds, politics and nationalities. While it was originally planned for about 50,000 residents, its population has hovered around 3,000 over the past few decades. Auroville Foundation did not respond to our calls when we reached out for comments.