Who will own the land and buildings of
Auroville? Mother’s answer: The Supreme Lord.1
“Auroville is only for the rich.” This bitter remark was made
by a French visitor some time ago, when she realised that to
live in Auroville one has to bring a lot of money to build
a house – and then a house that will never belong to you. “How
can Auroville expect you to put your savings in a house, and
if you leave they say ‘goodbye and thank you very much?' It
is not possible.” The visitor left disillusioned. But though
her comment was true, it did not contain the entire truth.
For still people join Auroville who have no money and they
manage, in the course of time, to find accommodation.
The principle that individuals cannot own land or houses in
Auroville dates back to the very beginning of Auroville. On
The Mother's instruction, the first land for Auroville was
bought by the Sri Aurobindo Society as early as 8 October 1964
2 , four years before the official inauguration of Auroville
in February 1968. In the brochures issued at the time it was
explained that interested persons, once accepted by The Mother,
could financially contribute towards a house in Auroville,
but that they were only granted the right to live there with
their family. Ownership of the house and land was never given,
though from the leaflets issued by the Sri Aurobindo Society
it may be inferred that the right to live in the house would
be extended to the person's family after the demise of the
The principle of non-ownership of immoveable assets
was subsequently laid down in the Charter of Auroville of February
28th, 1968 . The first line of Auroville's Charter states explicitly:
|Auroville belongs to nobody in particular.
belongs to humanity as a whole...
and Mother explains to Satprem: “So this is the material
fact. Auroville belongs... I didn't put “to no nation” because India would
have been furious. I put “belongs to nobody” – “nobody” is
a vague term which I used precisely so as not to say “to
no human being”or “to no nation”. And I put “Auroville belongs
to humanity AS A WHOLE”, because it amounts to nothing! Since
people can't agree together, the thing is impossible! I did
Some people argue that the first line of Auroville's Charter
refers to the ownership of the whole project and not to individual
ownership of houses in Auroville. But this is a moot point.
The fact is that no individual Aurovilians has ever owned land
or houses in Auroville. At first, land was legally owned by
the Sri Aurobindo Society. Later the Auroville Trust and a
specific land holding trust, the Auroville Resource Trust,
were used to purchase land. Organisations and individuals would
make donations towards these trusts, which in turn would buy
available land. Houses, meanwhile, were built from Aurovilians'
personal funds on Auroville land regardless of whether they
were owned by the land trusts or by the Society.
When the Auroville
Foundation Act was passed in September 1988, the Government
of India became the temporary owner of all the land and houses,
without paying compensation to either the Society or to individuals.
The Government transferred the ownership of all these assets
to the Auroville Foundation on April 1, 1992 . In later years,
the Auroville community, in its Housing Policy, designated
how it envisions the legal ownership of the Foundation: “The Auroville Foundation will hold the
ownership of all these assets in trust for humanity as a whole.” 3
present, all land required for Auroville is bought by the Auroville
Foundation from donations made to Auroville Fund for this purpose.
Individuals who wish to build a new house or move into an existing
house in Auroville are also required to channel their funds
through Auroville Fund. However, they will not own the house
and if they leave Auroville they cannot sell it. The Auroville
Land Policy and the Auroville Housing Policy, both documents
made by the Funds and Assets Management Committee, specify
the conditions under which Aurovilians have the right to use
the immoveable assets.
Though the principle of no individual ownership of immoveable
assets is undisputed, the observance of the rule is fraught
with difficulties. The first difficulty is the one commented
on by the French visitor: in the outside world, an individual
can take a 20 or 30-year loan on condition that the house bought
with that loan is mortgaged to the bank. In Auroville, loans
are not available and an individual has to make a donation
to the full value for the right to build and live in a house.
Not many individuals will be prepared to make a large donation
to Auroville – the indicative square meter price is at present
Rs 10,000 (US $ 225) – if they do not know for certain that
Auroville will be their ultimate place of residence. The realisation
that Auroville is not one's place might come years after one
has joined. Another risk is that the Government of India, for
reasons of its own, might decide to cancel permission for a
foreigner to remain in India. 4 In neither case can the individual
claim the value of the house back to start a life somewhere
else. Another consequence of the need to make a donation for
a house is that it affects the balanced structure of Auroville's
population. Few people in the age group of 25-35 join Auroville,
as they normally have not yet been able to build-up a sufficient
No places for rent
To solve the difficulty faced by Newcomers – people who are
admitted on a probationary period of 2 years – Auroville has
built a number of small Newcomer houses that are made available
against the payment of a monthly rent for a maximum period
of two years. Also the possibility has been created that Newcomers
build their own house. In case the Newcomer period is terminated
for whatever reason, 80% of the money invested by the Newcomer
would be returned; but if the Newcomer becomes an Aurovilian,
the investment will be considered a donation to Auroville.
Housing Service recently reported the shortcomings of this
scheme. The recent batch of Newcomers is unable, it appears,
to make any full contribution and instead needs to rent places.
But hardly any spaces for rent are available as some Newcomer
units have gone to Aurovilians due to the housing shortage.
For many Newcomers there is no other option than to take a
room in a guest house, and go through a rigorous ordeal to
try to secure housing for themselves.
A solution was proposed
in an Entry Seminar last year, to rent housing for Newcomers
in the surrounding villages. This would allow the villages the
opportunity to develop this industry and so be of benefit to
all parties. But this viewpoint met with the objection that such
an industry would be purely materialistic and not be in any way
connected with the ideals of integration and co-evolution of
Auroville with the surrounding villages. A suburb of Auroville
in the villages might be the result and in this way Auroville
itself would not develop.
The problem was painfully illustrated
when, over the last six months, there was an influx of potential
Korean newcomers. They had seen a video about Auroville on Korean
television and thought that they could rent a house in Auroville
and experience Auroville, secure in the knowledge that if it
did not work out, no major investment would be lost. The video
had been shot by a Korean video team but had not been submitted
to Auroville for prior editing – explaining the housing shortage. A visibly
upset member of the Auroville Housing Group explained the difficulty: “They
all are in their mid-thirties, they are full of energy and
we have to tell them that we have no newcomer houses empty.
Then we tell them that they had better come with a substantial
sum of money to build themselves a house, but if they leave
after they have become Aurovilian, they have lost their donation.
And they simply cannot afford this. India is a difficult country,
Auroville is unknown and challenging, and they are not sure
that even after two years they will be fully committed. So
they leave. But if Auroville is to become a vibrant city, members
of that age group need to be present in large numbers. It is
ridiculous and unacceptable that young people are not welcome
unless they bring cash.” Evidently, the people who now apply
to become a newcomer are more cautious than the idealists who
joined Auroville in the seventies and eighties.
A third problem is that the no-ownership rule has created
stagnation. Although individuals do not own the house they
are occupying, they are de facto more attached to it than in
the outside world, as they have no possibility to liquidate
the asset and redeploy the funds for some other purpose. As
a result, sometimes individuals are staying in houses that
are much larger than their needs. It also leads to a growing
number of under-the-table deals, where individuals grant others
the right to live in the house against payment. As these deals
are detrimental to Auroville's reputation and integrity, Auroville's
Fund and Assets Management Committee recently issued a public
warning against it. 5
Solutions to all these problems have still
to be found. One solution, often suggested to attract young people
to Auroville, is that Auroville builds apartment buildings and rents
them out. However, Auroville lacks the money to do so and frowns
on borrowing. But there may be no other solution. For is it
realistic to expect that benevolent outsiders will solve our
problems by making large donations for this purpose?
1 In early 1965, someone asked Mother a whole list of
questions on Auroville, each of them with the answer he proposed.
Only those questions for which Mother wrote her own answers
were published in 1969. When she read the notation of 8
October 1969 , she changed 2 answers. For this article
the published version is followed.
2 Source: Records of Auroville's Land Service
3 Auroville Housing Policy section 1a, as Approved by
the FAMC on 28 July 2000 last modified
4 Under the Indian Foreigners Act, 1946, Aurovilians of
non-Indian origin, like any other foreigner, can be evicted
from India at any time without reasons, irrespective of the
period they have lived in Auroville.
5 In its monthly report of July 2004