For the last three years, the Interim
Development Council has overseen the development of Auroville.
Its mandate expired in May
Development is controversial everywhere in
the world. Managing development well means balancing the known
needs of today against the uncertain needs of the long-term future:
weighing-up the conflicting interests of industry, the environment,
commerce and the general public. This is difficult.
In Auroville, there is the added complication that we are not
just building a city. We are participating in an Experiment of
which the City is merely the physical manifestation. So Ideals
have to be added to the scales, with their attached baggage of
passionately held interpretations and irreconcilable disagreements.
Auroville Today decided to take the temperature, so to speak,
of that section of the community which has day-to-day responsibility
for developing the City of Dawn. We spoke separately to the Interim
Development Council, Auroville's Future, the International Zone
Group and the Green Group. (The Industrial Zone Group were out
of town, and there are currently no bodies representing the Residential
or Cultural Zones.)
We asked them how they see the next three to five years. What
do they want? How will they be working with other groups? What
do they actually do?
A note on the Masterplan
The Auroville Masterplan is the official development
plan for Auroville which was approved by the Ministry of Human
Resource Development on April 12, 2001. It is a "perspective
plan", which contains the broad concepts and philosophies
of the township's development. It has a time-span of about 25
years. Within the framework of the perspective plan, detailed
development plans will be made, which have time-scales up to five
years. Development plans can only be made once the ground realities
are clear; they require surveys to acquire the necessary data.
Lastly, there will be annual plans made for implementation.
The Masterplan also forms a crucial safeguard for Auroville's
place within the bio-region. Without it, Auroville cannot request
any kind of protection from the Tamil Nadu or Central Governments.
Since land-purchase is still a problem, this protection is of
the utmost importance.
The need for a Masterplan was therefore accepted fairly equanimously
by the community. However, it is by no means regarded by all Aurovilians
as a definite plan for how Auroville will actually develop. Nevertheless,
both Auroville's Future and the Interim Development Council regard
the Masterplan as the basic blueprint for the City.
The Interim Development Council
If any group can be said to manage the process
of what gets built where in Auroville, it is the IDC. All planning
applications must be referred to them, and they can effectively
veto any projects. They are also responsible for developing the
city's public infrastructure.
This is a very difficult task, considering that they have almost
no resources. Auroville is chronically short of human and financial
capital. Since it takes enormous amounts of both to build even
a small town, the IDC really are trying to make bricks without
The IDC also, in the nature of things, attract the most direct
criticism from the community. There are several reasons. Firstly,
implementing the Masterplan means upsetting existing residents.
"Take the road plan," says Joseba. "When the plan
is put into execution, and the road work commences, someone challenges
the concept entirely, or starts asking for the road to be shifted
an extra 10 or 20 meters from where they are living!"
Secondly, being the body responsible for saying No to peoples'
cherished projects does not make the IDC popular.
Finally, since the IDC are seen as champions of the Masterplan,
they become a lightning-rod for community discontent on that subject.
L'Avenir d'Auroville, or Auroville's Future,
dates back to 1965, and has the distinction of being created by
"Three things were established during Mother's own time,"
says Pashi. "One was the Architect, Roger Anger. Second was
the concept of Auroville. Third was the creation of Auroville's
Future as the department to assist Roger in executing it."
After nearly forty years, including a period where it ceased to
exist altogether, Auroville's Future is still fulfilling this
role. They function as the town planning department for the City.
They start by making assumptions about the population growth of
Auroville. From there, they can estimate likely patterns of consumption
for water, energy, transport and so forth. The level of detail
required for this work is considerable. The team is awesomely
knowledgeable, dedicated and energetic. And they are quite happy
to call in outside help: one of the key consultants in developing
the Masterplan was Mr Dattatri, former Chief Town Planner of the
Chennai Metropolitan Authority.
Like the IDC, Auroville's Future are completely committed to implementing
the Masterplan. They are not unsympathetic to desires for a more
"organic" growth of the City. But as Anandi explains,
"Mother was very clear she really wanted a plan. And She
discussed with Roger so many small details about it. For us that
is also a sign that there had to be a plan. Otherwise we would
be developing like other cities all over the world - they have
The International Zone
The International Zone perhaps presents the
smoothest road in terms of its development. Many of the problems
that make life extremely difficult for Auroville's Future, the
IDC and the Green Group do not exist in the International Zone.
Auroville owns all but five acres of the land. There is nothing
much there to knock down. No-one lives in it or near it, so NIMBY
(Not In My Back Yard) attitudes to new roads and infrastructure
aren't a problem. Relationships with likely providers of capital
and inspiration (the Auroville International centres overseas)
are good. Finally, uniquely, Auroville as a whole is not yet passionately
married to any particular outcome. So the constant cataract of
complaints that pours down on development debate elsewhere is
only experienced as a tiny drip in the International Zone.
To top it all off, the team doing the work is as passionate, informed,
diverse and committed as you could wish to meet. And positive!
The word "problem" only occurred once during the interview.
The existing buildings in the International Zone are Bharat Nivas
(soon to be restored to its rightful role as the Indian Pavilion
rather than de facto Auroville Town Hall), Savitri Bhavan, the
Tibetan Pavilion, the Guest House of the American Pavilion and
the Unity Pavilion. This last will be "very important"
says Sergei. "It will be where we co-ordinate development
of the International Zone. And it refers to the soul of humanity
as a whole, if other buildings are referring to souls of the nations.
The International Zone Group office will be there, as will architectural
planning. And it will be a place for Pavilion Groups who have
no places of their own."
The team sees itself as having two main tasks at present. The
first is to understand Mother's vision for the International Zone.
The second is to work very closely with the Auroville Ineternational
centres who will be prime movers in actually building the Pavilions
- "the spiritual embassies of the nations," in Sergei's
The Green Group
In some ways, the Green Group are the odd-people-out
in our group of interviews. They are not specifically responsible
for developing any part of the City. They have no formal powers
of veto. They do not make development proposals.
However, perhaps more than any of the development working-groups,
the Green Group provides a bridge between Auroville's eco-village
past and its hopefully eco-friendly future. And they are custodians
of Auroville's most visible and precious external achievement
- the trees. It is as if they are holding our collective conscience.
Interviewing AuroFuture at their (old) office in the morning,
and then meeting the Green Group at Oasis Juice Bar the same afternoon,
was like flying from Singapore's Changi airport to Tibet. A different
world, a different worldview. Much gentler, more diffuse, but
just as well-defined. So what about development?
Kireet, whose work with check-dams has reached a point where a
monsoon of up to 20cm is contained with no run-off, agrees. "It
should be in harmony with Nature, all the building, the landscaping
and everything we are going to do in Auroville. No pollution during
and after building. Not abusing nature, but taking all the steps
in line with nature. It will ask us to be very conscious on the
The other groups talked mostly about "what" they are
doing and "why". But the Green Group is primarily concerned
with "how we do it," says Gemma. "All these people
with passionate views about This Is What It Should Be… If we can
find a way to create something with a reasonable degree of harmony
and peace, instead of what we do at the moment, then that's actually
the aim, isn't it?"
This makes working with Auroville's Future and the IDC, in particular,
a little difficult. It is not because of any wish - on either
side - to be stand-offish. But the working-methods don't quite
meet in the middle. Kireet explains, "Fixed proposals have
to be somehow flexible as well. If necessary, we have to change
the plan and do it better. Everything changes so fast we that
have to adapt constantly."
It seems worth repeating that development
is difficult. Not counting Matrimandir and the Matrimandir Lake
& Gardens, few issues carry such an emotional charge in Auroville,
or affect our everyday lives to such an extent.
Development has a long tail. Once a block
of flats is put up, or a canyon is built-over, that is the end
of the story for many years to come. So it seems right that we
should vigorously debate the principles on which to build the
City the Earth Needs. What do we need, come to that?
Asking lots of "what" and "why"
and "how" questions can help to make sure that we -
and the earth - don't suffer unnecessarily when the bull-dozers
move in. And the grandeur of the vision must be weighed against
the costs, both financial and human. Even projects that come to
be seen as iconic often have very shaky beginnings. Construction
of the Sydney Harbour Bridge involved demolishing half a suburb,
compulsorily displacing thousands of people. Was it worth it?
Probably. But let's hope that they talked about it for a bit before
Luckily, this is Auroville. There will, no
doubt, have been very many words exchanged by the time we are
a city of 50,000.