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November 2004

President of India visits Auroville

- by Carel

On November 1, 2004 , the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, paid a visit to Auroville. Accompanied by the Lt. Governor of Pondicherry , the Chief Minister of Pondicherry and the Minister of Education, Tamil Nadu, the President arrived at the town-hall about 8 pm. where a representative section of about 60 Aurovilians was assembled. After listening to some presentations on Auroville and addressing the community, the President visited the Matrimandir.

The President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, being welcomed at the Town Hall, Photos: Pino

Dr. Karan Singh, Chairman of the Auroville Foundation, welcomed the President on behalf of the Auroville community and the Auroville Foundation. He reminded how, in 1980, during the discussion on the Auroville Emergency Provisions Act, he had addressed the Indian Parliament saying that Auroville was an arrow shot into the future from the bow of Sri Aurobindo. "The bow is the tremendous spiritual achievement of Sri Aurobindo, the fiery prophet of Indian nationalism and the bringer of the supramental consciousness. The powerful vision of The Mother has stood at the roots of this unique multi-national and multi-racial township. In the 36 years of its existence the Aurovilians have, through their labour, devotion and dedication, changed a desert into an ocean of green with at its heart the spiritual centre, the Matrimandir.” Dr. Karan Singh ended his welcome address with a recitation of Sri Aurobindo's poem ‘Rose of God,' which ends with the line ‘Make earth the home of the Wonderful and life beatitude's kiss.'

Standing for the National Anthem. From left to right: Mr. S.R. Sharma, Secretary, Ms. Aster Patel, member, and Dr Karan Singh, Chairman of the Auroville Foundation;  Dr. Abdul Kalam, President of India; Mr. M.M. Lakhera, Lt. Governor Pondicherry; Mr. N. Rangasamy, Chief Minister, Pondicherry.

Luigi of Auroville's Future gave a short introduction on Auroville's work. “We have all come because of the vision of evolution, of a new force that can change matter and spirit. Mother India, the land of universal spirituality, is nurturing this unique project, and there are no words to express the deepest gratitude of the Aurovilians coming from more than 40 countries who have received everything from their spiritual motherland.” Luigi demonstrated how Auroville has grown and has developed a network of national and international relationships, such as with the Government of India on various levels, with UNESCO, with the European Community and, through the city networking project, with many cities in India and abroad. “Auroville offers itself as a laboratory for research, studies and experimentation. Auroville's quest is to create a city fully dedicated to the future, which then could be recognized by UNESCO as a unique heritage site of the future.”

The President, aware of the international seminar on sustainable water resource management held in Auroville in September, had asked to be informed about salination of groundwater, in particular about the hydrological modelling of the saline intrusion in the Vanur aquifer. Gilles Boulicot from Water Harvest presented the problems in a nutshell. After having thanked the President for his inspiring message for the conference, Gilles explained that the problem of saline groundwater is not yet properly understood. The system of aquifers beneath Auroville is complex, and not yet sufficiently studied. Gilles showed how groundwater level in the Vanur aquifer, the main aquifer for the area, has gone down from 7 metres above sea level in 1975 to 37 metres below sea level now. Electro-conductivity tests indicate that the salinity in 2002 was relatively limited, but that today the entire area is above the acceptable limit for irrigation and drinking water extraction purposes. But it appears that the salination is not caused by seawater intrusion, but rather by a natural saline aquifer that is situated below the Vanur aquifer. “There is an upward leakage from this underlying aquifer into the Vanur formation and the cause is rampant overextraction of water for irrigation purpose,” stated Gilles. “In the period 1981-1990 the extraction was twice the natural recharge. In the period 1991-2000 the yearly extraction was eight times the natural recharge. Today the extraction is twenty times the natural recharge. This is a very serious problem caused by bad management practices and inappropriate irrigation systems.” Gilles said that like Pondicherry , Auroville should also be facing groundwater salinity due to seawater intrusion, but for unknown reasons, this is not yet happening. “We assume that there is a natural barrier or a water barrier along the coast that checks the inflow of seawater. But we do not have enough information to prove this.” Based on simple models and the data available, Gilles presented the expectation that already in 2010 one third of the aquifer would be contaminated, and that the entire aquifer would be saline by 2050.

Gilles stressed that more studies will be required to determine the origin of salination and come up with means to battle it. He mentioned that cooperation between institutions and stakeholders of the area is required, such as with the Indian ONGC, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, which did an investigation in the area about five years ago but which has, so far, not agreed to share its data. Gilles concluded his presentation expressing his hope that Auroville will be instrumental to transform this area into a pilot area for sustainable development.

The third Auroville presentation was given by Tency from the Auroville Centre for Scientific Research. He showed how Auroville has successfully experimented with many forms of renewable energy and stated that, with the support of the Government of Tamil Nadu, Auroville could use its experience to make the bioregion a real example for all renewable energy devices that are suitable for this region. Showing the waste water treatment system that Auroville has designed for the Aravind Eye Hospital south of Pondicherry, which recycles 310 cubic metres of waste water daily, Tency mentioned that Auroville could also, with the support of the Pondicherry government, help Pondicherry to utilise its 10 million litres of waste water which flows daily into its sewage plant close by Auroville.

“We transformed a barren landscape into a green ocean within two decades. We believe that with the same energy we can develop an integrated water management not only for Auroville but also for the bioregion. And for the future we dream of having our own desalination plant. Because of our experience in renewable energy we would like to run such a plant with renewable energy instead of conventional energy. With support from governmental agencies we are ready to create an example which can be copied in other places.” Tency concluded his brief presentation saying that, in Auroville, perfection in matter cannot be achieved unless there is also an inner perfection, as without that inner perfection, humanity will not change.

The President took up on this very issue. “I have come here as a pilgrim, for you have a large mission, a mission that came from Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. When I heard your presentations how the barren land was transformed into a beautiful place I was moved and also by your concern for the water and the seawater ingress. Somebody once said that everything starts from the inner side, and if the inner side is ok, everything is ok. For what do you want to be? My answer to this question from a child was ‘to be a better human being'. And Auroville probably is the place which creates better human beings.”

The President said that, when he was flying over Pondicherry by helicopter that morning, he saw that the shores of the ponds were white and that he was told that this was salt. Seawater intrusion into the groundwater is a serious problem for Pondicherry and the President asked Auroville to help find a solution. “When you have heavy rains, they do not stop seawater intrusion. That is the question I have, is there any counter mechanism so that sea water intrusion does not take place?” He encouraged Auroville to pursue research and develop groundwater models.

The President also addressed the problem of solid waste disposal. Stating that most of the water bodies in Pondicherry and Tami Nadu have been polluted by solid waste, he proposed that for an effective water harvesting system all solid waste be removed and used it for power generation. The President showed photos of two such power plants, one in Hyderabad , the other in Vizag, which generate 6 MW power from solid waste.

The President concluded his address by quoting a poet who wrote: ‘When there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.'

“Peace in the world is what Auroville stands for. I was happy to hear your presentations. I will definitely be with you and you can call me for my help.”

On behalf of Auroville, Aster Patel, member of the Governing Board, thanked the President for his encouraging words and his offer of help. “You have used kind words saying that we are here for a mission. These sentiments resonate very deeply in us. We have screen-printed some words of The Mother on a scroll which is presented to you:

India has become the symbolic representation of all the difficulties of present-day humanity.

India will be the site of its resurrection, the resurrection of a higher and truer life.

In that effort our work here in Auroville counts for something but it counts a million times more if your support continues to be with us,” concluded Aster.

Before leaving Auroville the President visited the Matrimandir. In the Matrimandir visitors book he wrote:

“Matrimandir is beautiful divine creation. When I spent few minutes in the concentration chamber, I felt time is infinite; something echoed in me; can I give words to the divine call:

‘Divine beauty, divine peace, entered into me, and blossoms happiness in my body and soul.'

A.P.J.Abdul Kalam.”

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