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.