Residents living inside the well-known Auroville Foundation near Puducherry have alleged that police came a little past midnight on Saturday, December 4 with 3 JCB earthmovers to clear trees within the forest complex for the contested Crownway Road. Residents say police personnel forced out people sleeping at the Youth Centre and allegedly assaulted some of the youngsters, including minors.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an Auroville Residents Board member told TNM that some of the youngsters were locked up in a police vehicle and at least four to five of them were beaten by the police. Particulalry Indian youngsters were targeted by the police, a resident alleged, adding that they have all been released now. The Crownway will be a peripheral road meant to be laid around Auroville and connecting to the Matrimandir inside.
After hearing the uproar caused by the police presence, many residents reportedly rushed to the spot and managed to stop the JCBs from carrying out the work, but some trees were already uprooted, residents said. For now, the work has been put on hold following the residentsâ€™ protests. Residents also alleged that the police blocked routes to the site where the work was being carried out and manhandled protesting residents.
The Secretary of Auroville Foundation, Dr Jayanti Ravi, who is a Union government appointee, and the Town Development Council (TDC), residents alleged, are implementing plans that are outdated and do not take into consideration the ecological balance of the forest, elevation, higher rainfall and climate change in the recent years.
â€śWeâ€™re not against the development or the Crownway, let it happen. But it needs to be done properly. Weâ€™re against the show of violence, and using police to enforce the plan. That is unacceptable,â€ť said a resident. They also alleged that threats to revoke visas of the residents were made and that no intimation had been given that either the JCBs or the police were to be brought in at the time.
According to a report in The Hindu regarding the nightâ€™s events, residents said that the Foundation is determined to carry out a plan that is in line with the masterplan of The Motherâ€”Mira Alfassa, founder of Auroville. This masterplan, residents told The Hindu, is no longer ecologically feasible.
A resident also told TNM that the Auroville Universal Township Master Plan â€“ Perspective 2025 had been approved by the former Human Resource Development Ministry in 2001 and notified in a Government of India gazette in 2010. The Detailed Development Plan (DDP) to implement this masterplan which is yet to be finalised will take into consideration present environmental realities, they said.
The resident added that not only had the discussion regarding the DDP not happened, â€śall adaptive planning strategies [such as catering for ecological concerns] are being viewed as an erosion of the Motherâ€™s vision by the TDC and the Foundationâ€™s secretary. This is a case of originalists v evolutionistsâ€”experts who know the land and recommend taking into consideration climate change, the water crisis and so on.â€ť They also alleged that as there has been no debate, the development work was stagnating for which the experts are being blamed. â€śAdding violence to the equation is not going to move us closer to working together,â€ť they said.
Speaking to TNM, the Villupuram Superintendent of Police said, â€śThe foundation had requested police bandobast for the tree clearing expecting pushback from the residents. Accordingly, police personnel from the Kottakuppam station, under whose jurisdiction Auroville falls, were sent.â€ť He denied allegations of any violence having taken place.
When asked why the work had to be carried out in the middle of the night rather than during the day, he said that it was the foundationâ€™s decision â€śbecause the residents would create problems during daylightâ€ť. On the question of why there had been no discussion with the residents before the work was carried out, he replied that â€śthey have no say in the matter, but if they have a problem they can take it up legallyâ€ť.