At present, in the landscape of Auroville, the roots of progress are making its space clashing with the roots of the past. Though intricately intertwined with the nurturing soil of conscious evolution, recent events must spark a crucial rethink about the delicate balance between the future and nature.
As the RA Working Committee (RAWC), recognized by some fringe residents, who refuse to work or communicate with anyone, has articulated concerns and raised alarms about the tree felling along Crown Road, it’s imperative and will be well-advised to view this moment not as a setback but as an opportunity to redefine Auroville’s path forward—a path that harmonizes progress, instead of haphazard spurts of growth.
The sorrow expressed by the RAWC over the removal of Service Trees, initially planted with thoughtful intent, is undoubtedly heartfelt. However, the narrative can shift from lamentation to one of optimism, envisioning a future where further progress aligns seamlessly with Auroville’s core values.
Understanding the Rationale
The recent tree cutting along the Crown Road, though disheartening, seems for some a crucial step towards unshackling Auroville from the prolonged paralysis caused by legal disputes and arbitrary impediments. The stay order obtained by two individuals in December 2021, claiming Auroville as a deemed forest, brought essential projects to a standstill. The subsequent stay by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that Auroville somehow positioned Auroville as a forest or a deemed forest was a moment of anxiety for many Aurovilians.
The recent Supreme Court order, staying the NGT’s jurisdiction until the next hearing on the 12th, has provided Auroville with the relief and liberty to resume its development. For some, eager to manifest the City, this has come as a great gift and they’re trying hard to manifest as much and as fast as they can. This is only natural, when we all know that RA Working Groups are only working towards pausing, stopping, and blocking everything City. In the last two years of their existence as a breakaway, resistance group, they have not shown any signal of contributing towards the manifestation of the City. Every occasion of collaboration and communication was turned down by them, in the arrogance and hope of winning the cases and maintaining the status quo which conveniently suits their physical comfort and personal aspirations.
Thus, with the newly created narrow window of opportunity, work is being carried out at extraordinary speed. Is it ideal? No. But, what do we expect after filing 22 cases against Auroville Foundation? Will they invite the RA WGs and share the proposed plan? For it to be used to block again?
By secretly filing court cases and planting media stories, we have successfully taught the Secretariat the secret sauce called ‘Element of Surprise’. I’m surprised why we are shocked. Did we ask the RAWC, why they didn’t share and discuss their legal plans with the RESIDENTS before filing the case?
Nevertheless, it’s crucial to recognize this as an opportunity for rejuvenation rather than dwelling on past challenges. The focus must now shift to a balanced and conscious approach to development, one that respects the Master Plan and acknowledges the need for certain trees to be cleared.
Balancing Nature and Development
The claim that Auroville is on the brink of destroying lakhs of trees is a distortion of reality. Auroville estimates that only a few thousand trees, a mere 0.16% of the total, will need to be felled to implement the Master Plan. Auroville currently boasts a remarkable ratio of ~1500 trees per capita, showcasing its commitment to maintaining a green and sustainable environment.
While the protest and activism against the felling of trees is understandable, on the part of volunteers and newcomers, it’s essential to recognize that some of these trees were planted strategically in areas earmarked for collective infrastructure and future development. Had there been true empathy toward ecology, these trees would not have been planted on the proposed Right of Way. The trees were planted purposefully as a means to encroach on the Auroville lands for personal ambitions.
Now, it is unfortunate that the trees planted along the Crown are also being removed. However, thanks to all our arm-twisting tactics and refusal to budge, the work order has been given to the CPWD, and they’re going by the Master Plan, to the tee. In the MP, the Crown is meant to be 30m and they’re clearing the undergrowth according to that. Over the years, ATDC has planned to limit the Crown RoW to 16.7m, with a carriageway of about 7m in the middle, and an infra corridor on both sides of the road. Thus, 16.7m is being cleared of all the trees also.
Could we have collaborated with the ATDC and found a way for a tree corridor on both sides of the carriageway, even if that meant increasing the RoW to 4 or 5m more? Definitely yes! But, did we do anything about it? Definitely no! We were busy filing court cases and signing the RADs.
The plantation, partially funded by the European Commission, was done with the full awareness that these trees might need to be removed to facilitate Auroville’s progress. So, no point in raising that alarm. Even if they fall for the drama, and come crying to the Indian Government, we can easily give their money back, even though that guarantee was not ever given. I am sure the EC must be uneasy and embarrassed that we are playing petty politics using their name.
A Call for Unity
Instead of perpetuating a narrative of conflict, this is an opportunity for the Auroville community to come together and contribute to a positive and constructive vision for the future. While the loss of trees is regrettable, the spirit of Auroville lies in its ability to adapt and regenerate. If we collaborate and do not cut down on each other on every occasion, we can easily replant the trees and make the crown beautiful and bountiful, within 5 years. I’ve no doubts about it. I’ve seen Kalpana grow a thick green cover, within my short timespan spent there.
We need to recognize and realize that in the face of progress, Auroville has historically demonstrated resilience. Instances of tree clearance for projects like the Frisbee field, Humanscapes, or other essential developments have occurred in the past without causing division within the community. Cyclone Thane, a natural calamity that felled half a million trees, serves as a poignant reminder that nature can restore itself over time.
A Peaceful Path Forward
As Auroville navigates this critical circular juncture, the call for a peaceful and collaborative approach, from the silent and neutral quarter becomes more pronounced. The imperative now is to focus on sustainable practices, tree replantation, and aligning future development with the Master Plan. Auroville’s commitment to conscious living should extend beyond individual preferences to a collective understanding that, at times, sacrifices are necessary for the greater good.
The ongoing tree cutting, when viewed in the context of the broader development goals, is a small step. The roads are not the end in itself. 11 Lines for Forces will come in the Residential Zone. 6 Lines for Forces will come in the Industrial Zone. Huge complexes like CIRHU and Stadium will soon appear. What we are witnessing is a preview, a trailer, not a full movie. If we come together and work together, we can uphold Auroville in not abandoning its commitment to a green environment. For that to happen, we cannot be angry all the time and cut off from the reality. We need to rather communicate, coordinate, and collaborate to adapt to the evolving needs of our growing City.
If anything, the recent concerns have shed light on the importance of open communication and community engagement in action-making processes. Moving forward, Auroville has an opportunity to set an example to the world for sustainable urban planning, where culture and nature coexist harmoniously.
Embracing reality does not mean forsaking Auroville’s unique identity. On the contrary, progress can be a catalyst for innovation, community collaboration, and the realization of the City’s full potential. Auroville’s founding vision envisioned a City that inspires the world—a City where future generations would find a home in Unity and Consciousness.
Altogether, let us not be bound by the echoes of discord but liberated by the promise of a manifested Auroville. Together, as stewards of this conscious experiment, we can weave a narrative of progress that resonates with the purpose of the City, the founding principles, ecological needs, beauty and harmony, and the collective spirit that defines Auroville’s soul.