On Saturday May 6th, Auroville's Future presented its perspectives on the development of the city. It was followed by a frank discussion.
The presentation of Auroville's Future highlighted aspects of the Master Plan and its plans for the immediate future. A main focus is the Habitat area behind the town hall complex.
Nearby the recently completed Mitra youth hostel, a residential accommodation for 1,500 people is envisaged. Funding proposals have been submitted; one donor has already agreed to freeze the Citadines project, originally planned nearby the Creativity community, and instead donate the funds for building residences in this area. There will be collective services and utilities such as laundry, a small Pour Tous stall and perhaps a restaurant and sports facilities.
Auroville's Future also presented its solutions for the villages of Bharatipuram and Kottakarai in the Industrial and International Zones. One is to build an ideal model village for 2000 people on a plot of Auroville land in the Greenbelt , north of Kottakarai. A second solution would be that Auroville purchase plots of land in the Kootroad area, and offers these as replacement. A third option is to complete Sangamam, a model village nearby Utility, the first part of which was built some years ago, and motivate people to move there.
Quite a few members of the audience expressed doubts about the feasibility of such solutions. They pointed out that a recent report of the Government of Tamil Nadu showed that the relocation of villages in the wake of the tsunami had failed. If this hasn't worked, why should a model village proposed by Auroville be a success? Moreover, not all those living in these villages are employees of Auroville. Many are economically independent self-employed entrepreneurs who might not be motivated to move.
The discussion than shifted to the content of the presentation, as it showed how little progress has been made to build the city. This, embarrassingly, has also often been noted by government and non-government officials who observe that Auroville continues to make the same type of presentations throughout the years. Another of their criticisms is that Auroville doesn't follow what it preaches. For example, we say we want ‘green buildings,' but we use a design language and building patterns which do not support that objective.
The major issue, it appeared, is another Auroville embarrassment: the inability to work together. Though all profess to want the Galaxy, opinions about how to build it differ deeply. Some consider that the Master Plan, the first version of which was seen and approved by The Mother, is sacrosanct; that any major change is basically unacceptable, and that the only thing to be done is to get organised for its implementation. Others consider the Master Plan an interpretation of Mother's indications and believe that changes can and must be made. The problem was summed up as follows: Is it a question of a divine mandate versus logical questioning? If that is so, than there is little common platform of discussion and then all suggestions to work together are basically futile.
The difficulties come to the front in the Auroville Planning and Development Council, a working group created by the community about three years ago with a rather extensive mandate. Though Auroville's Future is represented in this body, the two have not managed to work well together. Instead, a culture of mistrust has come into existence, which has paralysed possible cooperation. The APDC, for example, was not consulted in determining the location of the new office of the Auroville Foundation, for which Dr. Karan Singh, the Chairman of the Governing Board, laid the foundation stone on March 30th. Neither was the APDC informed of Auroville's Future's plans for the Habitat centre and the extent of its fundraising efforts, until this presentation. Auroville's Future, from its side, is mistrustful of the work of the Planning Group, a sub-group of the APDC. Even though half of the Group's members are members of Auroville's Future, one of the executives explained that they do not, in fact, represent Auroville's Future.
Where do we go from here? It became the main topic of discussion. The divisive ways of functioning are frustrating to all. Is it possible to merge different viewpoints, would it be possible to come to one organisation? Can people sit together to discuss planning issues, looking at cost-benefit ratios and effects of proposed developments and so come to agreements? Is it possible that together priority areas of development are identified and that major funding proposals are coordinated instead of sent out by one working group?
As one person said: “Unless we are open to debate, mistrust will simmer and fester, to the detriment of all and of Auroville as a whole. We must find a common direction.” With this objective, a group of people holding opposing views have agreed to sit together to evaluate the modalities for working together.