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September '03

Developing Auroville's neighbouring villages

- by Anne G.

Anne in Kuilapalayam village. The first Kashmiri boutique and other handicrafts units have already opened there.

When you read the details of the now abandoned plan to build a Taj Heritage Corridor you become aware of just how tenuous any given 'protection' for heritage centres in India is. This project, which entailed changing the course of the Yamuna River just behind the Taj in order to build a shopping mall for tourists, would have gravely endangered the Taj Mahal. It took the intervention of the media and a huge public outcry to stop this development. But if even the Taj Mahal can become so seriously threatened, then how fragile is Auroville.
The following is an excerpt from an article in the Hindu Magazine of Sunday 13th titled 'Tunnel vision in Agra':
'As is the case with any place which is a tourist attraction, a whole service industry grows up around it, starting with shops selling cheap replicas and other souvenirs, stalls providing food and drink to tourists, guide and ticketing services, hotel accommodation and the like. But it does not stop there; pretty soon, untrammelled growth results in everything being sold there from sandalwood to suitcases. Municipal authorities do nothing to check this proliferating entrepreneurship and pretty soon everything gets blocked and the tourist for whom this glut of services is being provided cannot get through to see the monument for what they have come in the first place. The Taj Mahal, in spite of its pre-eminent position in our heritage hierarchy, has not escaped this fate either.'
When I last visited the Taj Mahal ten years ago, I was hassled by touts who wanted me to visit one of the innumerable small shops that lined the route to the entrance. It was not a pleasant experience and I am sure it is much worse now. If we are not vigilant the same thing will happen to the access roads to Auroville. Indeed development is already mushrooming on the road from Repos to Kuilyapalayam, and has started on the Edayanchavadi road to the Visitor's Centre. It could also begin on the road from Bommayarpalayam to Auroville. But even more worrying is that it is appearing on the road from Kuilapalayam to Certitude.
Two of the most endearing images of Auroville I have are on the road from Kuilapalayam to Certitude. One is of the horizon framed by Palmyras across the open space near New Creation; the other is of the archway of trees a little further down the road. Very soon commercial units, billboards, etc. could replace these charming images and they could end up as old photo images of how beautiful Auroville once had been.
Is there anything we could do to preserve what is left? The first and most important step is to look at ourselves and and try to make our attitudes more in line with the Charter. We have to surrender our individual egos to work together for the good of Auroville. When we are less divided as a community we will find a clearer sense of direction and become more powerful.
The second necessity is that we need to have a realistic picture of the present situation in regards to Auroville. It is a childish fantasy to see Auroville as an oasis paradise in a rural setting. The reality is that Pondicherry is expanding, and expanding fast, and it will do more so in the future. We have to accept the fact that this entire area of Tamil Nadu will become more densely populated and urbanised. And most of the development that will take place may go unchecked.
But most of all we have to cooperate with our village neighbours. All traffic for Auroville passes the villages. It is but natural that the villages seek to get economic advantage from that - after all, they also share in all the disturbance which the traffic to Auroville brings. Auroville should help the villages to develop properly, assist them in making village development plans and also invest in this development. This would prove that Auroville is not self-seeking, that we want to work with them and share with them the prosperity we want to bring to Auroville.
The horrendous development that threatened to engulf the Taj Mahal and still threatens Auroville threatens other parts of India as well. Auroville has the potential to serve as a model for sustainable development in India. Including the development of its surrounding villages in that model is just the next step. Auroville can do this. It has achieved acclaim for transforming a desert into a fertile landscape. Now let's achieve more wonders and build a beautiful green town with prosperous villages around it.

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