The residents of Auroville have decided to give new life to an institution many had given up on: the Residents' Assembly.
For the majority of the Aurovilians, attending meetings of the Auroville Residents' Assembly (RA) is a turn-off. “It's always the same boring people,” is the common complaint. Over time, RA meetings became poorly attended with an average participation of less than a 100 people. Its method of decision making became unclear, wavering from consensus to simple majority and at times to a 2/3rd majority vote. Those who did not attend the RA meeting had simply no say.
The new Working Committee (WC), which took office in April this year, decided to make the functioning of the RA one of its main priorities. In July it published its proposal. Its main theme is the principle of universal suffrage: each Aurovilian over 18 years has the right and privilege to participate in decision-making, but there is no compulsion. Those who want to participate should be able to do so in the way most convenient to them: by email; through the ballot box; or in a meeting of the RA. As Auroville still lacks elaborate identification systems, the voting would be ‘open': those counting the votes will know how everybody has voted. The WC further proposed a quorum of 10% of the total number of Auroville residents; and that decisions are taken by simple majority vote.
The WC's detailed proposal also contained a suggestion: that RAs are no longer organized by the WC, but by a separate RA Service – which will be the beginning of a permanent RA secretariat. This would help the RA to become Auroville's true ‘legislative' body, to which all of Auroville's executive working groups and units would be ultimately accountable.
In its presentation, the WC stressed that decision-making through consensus instead of voting is the preferred Auroville method, as it “is based on our spiritual aspiration, and on our endeavour to find a solution that can satisfy all.” But the WC observed that this attempt has sometimes blocked situations from getting resolved. Stating that the problems of everyday life often have many possible solutions, some equally good and backed by equally valid arguments, the WC proposed that all views be given a full and fair hearing in one or more general meetings to be held before an RA takes place. But, said the WC, “if consensus cannot be found, a solution through voting is the only way out.”
Encouraged by the absence of any negative responses, the WC in August put both proposals – the method of decision-making as well as the creation of an RA Service – before the RA for a decision. It also put to the RA another contentious question: whether the Secretary should be the compulsory co-signatory of the Unity Fund [see Auroville Today # 222, August 2007].
The response was good. Of 1294 Auroville residents, 338 persons participated, or 26% of the population. A total of 183 votes were deposited in the ballot boxes; 109 votes were sent by email; and 46 votes were cast in the RA meeting of August 13th. Of the 338 votes, only three were invalid. An overwhelming majority of 82.7% of the voters agreed with the proposed method of decision-making; 78.5% of all the voters agreed to create a Residents' Assembly Service; and 92% of the voters disagreed with the compulsory co-signing.
In its final report to the residents the WC mentioned some of the difficulties it had encountered in the voting process. The main one was clarity of presentation: quite a few people had trouble understanding the issues, even though they had been explained before in general meetings. The WC recommended that, in future, proposals be formulated in simple language, and that general meetings also be held in Tamil to help Tamil Aurovilians who have difficulty in understanding English.
A worrying observation was that a number of Aurovilians did not want to vote openly against co-signing by the Secretary for fear of being expelled from India . This is a serious issue which needs to be addressed by the Governing Board. Auroville can only further develop as an international township if foreigners are allowed to live and work here without such fears.
The method of decision-making of the Auroville Residents' Assembly has now been clearly defined. Its decisions can no longer be questioned by an Aurovilian or outsider because of a lack of a quorum or for other technicalities.