150th birth anniversary year of Sri Aurobindo: ‘Govt committed to helping in Auroville expansion plan’

The government is committed to expanding Auroville into a ‘city’ in line with the existing Master Plan, amidst reaffirmed support to the experimental township during the first Auroville Festival to mark the 150th birth anniversary year of Sri Aurobindo.

Founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa – known as ‘The Mother’ – Auroville currently has a population of 3200 people, with the Auroville Foundation owning 3,300 acres of land. A plan, known as the Galaxy Plan, envisages a city of 50,000 residents.

Created on the lines of the Galaxy Plan, the Auroville Universal Township Master Plan (perspective 2025) was approved by the HRD Ministry in April, 2001.

Last year, however, its execution split the township, with a section of residents protesting in December against felling of trees for the project. The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal also issued an interim stay on the felling.

Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi said the Government of India, however, remains committed to the expansion plan.

Speaking on a panel on ‘Practical manifestation of the city and the role of UNESCO and Government of India’ last week, Ravi, who is also the chairman of Auroville’s Governing Body, said: “Unfortunately, we have seen a large number of groups, factions… We are still trapped at a very subordinate level. It has to evolve. But this evolution can’t be done by the government… Mother had given a design of what the township should be like. That is the physical infrastructure of that township… The government of India is only doing that part.”

As part of its support, the Centre has in the last one year doubled its grant to the Auroville Foundation, from Rs 15 crore to Rs 31 crore.

Jayanti Ravi, a senior bureaucrat currently the Secretary of the Auroville Foundation, said the increase is in view of the festival as well as for several projects, including the expansion.

“In terms of the timeline, we want to see it happen in a 5-10 year window and the budget is Rs 1,100 crore for five years,” Jayanti Ravi said.

She further said: “In the last eight months, we have asked for whatever land is required to be acquired. We have sent a land acquisition proposal to the Revenue Department, to the collector and had meetings with the Secretary of Revenue in Tamil Nadu, the Collector, etc. We have 85% of the land that we need, remaining 15% is what we will be getting.

“We have 8% of the proposed population. 8% of the population is occupying 85% of the land, and this is not feasible. We can’t have 3200 people living on 3,000 plus acres of land… we also want the benefit of Government of India schemes like AMRUT, they want pilots of this kind, and the new Town Development Authority is to ensure this…”

“Role of the government is not to impose any new ideas but whatever has been envisaged, whatever was the vision of Auroville as the Mother had seen it, and even decisions taken by earlier governing boards. We have to put in place action plans and make sure that these things are not just on paper,” she added.

According to the Master Plan, the ‘Galaxy’ is planned to be 20 square kilometres in size, of which 5 sq km are to be the city and 15 sq km are to be the ‘green belt’.

The city is planned to have four zones: residential, cultural, industrial and international. Apart from this, there will be the ‘Crown’, which the Master Plan defines as “a special use zone, which traverses all the four zones in a concentric fashion with a width of 75 meters, consisting of a circular road with buildings facing it.”

This Crown area will provide most of the service facilities required to support the activities in the four zones. The right of way of the Crown road was brought down to 16.7 metres from 30 metres.

Those opposing the project have argued that the plan for the Crown has to be updated to make it more sustainable and have been pushing for a Detailed Development Plan, while those in favour argue that the land area of the Crown right of way makes up only 0.36% of the total Master Plan area.

They have labelled the opposition as attempts to delay the expansion of Auroville and “maintain status quo”.

(The author visited Auroville at the invitation of the Auroville Foundation)

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