Over the years, a gradual shift is being made from providing cash maintenances to providing a combination of cash and goods in kind. Completely ‘free' (which means community-funded) are education, attendance of cultural events and puncture repair.
For food and sundry items, participating individuals are still required to deposit a certain amount in the relevant common account, against which a number of goods are made available in kind.
Ultimately, it is the intention that Auroville will provide to each Aurovilian all the needs required in kind, plus a certain amount in cash. This step is to be made soon.
The Pour Tous Distribution Centre scheme
Participants are required to deposit a monthly sum of Rs 2,100 in a common account. Food and sundry items are obtained from the Pour Tous Distribution Centre. Products available have been selected based on criteria such as demand, quality, costs and environmental impact. Special items not in stock can be ordered. The scheme also includes bread from the Auroville bakery; milk from Auroville dairies; gas bottles; and lunches and dinners from select Auroville kitchens and restaurants. Participants are not billed, though individual consumption patterns are tracked. People are made aware if they regularly ‘over-consume' and a common understanding is then reached on how to solve the problem.
Many participants experience great joy in sharing and giving. Some make donations of home-made food or bring excess produce from their gardens. A common experience is that it no longer matters that there is only a limited choice of products. Participants often say that it feels quite liberating that one can obtain whatever is needed without having to worry about paying.
PTDC purchases whatever Auroville's farms supply, which includes jams and nut butters and also buys the reasonably priced products from Auroville's food-processing units.
The income and expenditure of the scheme is in balance. The community provides a budget of Rs 38,000 a month which covers the maintenances of four Aurovilians (another 6 Aurovilians are working without taking maintenance) and running expenses. Its turnover is Rs 6,00,000 a month.
PTDC will soon start a food-processing unit that will process its surplus products.
The Nandini scheme
Nandini (meaning ‘the cow of plenty' in Hindu culture) started in 1994 as part of a collective move towards an economy in kind. It provides basic clothing and household items to about 580 participants, half of whom are children and students. Adult participants donate Rs 300 a month into the Nandini account; the contribution for participating children and students is collected from their Children's Maintenance the community provides. Participants are not billed, though individual accounts are maintained to guard against excessive consumption. The scheme's monthly expense of approximately Rs 1,40,000, which includes the salaries of tailors, maintenance of Aurovilians, purchase of fabric, ready-made clothes and household furnishings, and the rent for the premises. All expenses are fully funded by the participants. There is no community subsidy.
The energy subsidy scheme
Auroville provides, from community funds, a basic volume of electricity ‘free of charge' to all Aurovilians on the grid. Solar users benefit from a fund that covers the costs of maintenance and replacement of their equipment.
The scheme, introduced two years ago, was recently revised as many Aurovilians use less energy than had been initially estimated. The next step to promote a decrease in electricity consumption will be the upgrading of old water pumps, which consume large amounts of electricity, plus a general check-up on leaking underground pipes. The latter would also substantially reduce water consumption.
The Free Store
The Free Store is a free exchange centre for second hand clothing and shoes for Aurovilians and Newcomers. It receives donations from Aurovilians and sometimes from Auroville's commercial units. It has a tailoring section to make alterations and repairs. Its monthly budget of Rs 9,000 is paid by the community.
Pour Tous, Auroville's purchasing and distribution service, provides a large variety of food and sundry items to Aurovilians, newcomers and guests through its retail outlet near Aspiration and through its ‘basket service', a free home delivery service. It also operates a ‘shopping service': any item available in Puducherry can be bought and home-delivered for a small surcharge. Pour Tous also operates the gas bottle service, located in the Service area, where empty bottles can be exchanged. Pour Tous is self-supporting and does not receive community subsidy. It employs 40 non-Aurovilians and 8 Aurovilians, and has a turnover of on average Rs 120 lakhs (Rs 1.2 million) a month. Its products are only sold to account holders; cash transactions are not possible.
The Prosperity Scheme: the next step
The Prosperity Scheme will combine the benefits of the PTDC, Nandini and the Energy scheme. Additionally, the costs of basic minimum phone usage and dental care will be covered. The scheme will also pay the participant's contribution to Auroville's Health Fund. The positive monthly balance of the scheme will be transferred to a ‘Caring Service,' an account from which one-of-a-kind needs of participants will be met.
In the Prosperity Scheme, those on community maintenance are required to contribute Rs 3,000 per month, others Rs 3,250. The scheme will start as soon as the Free Store and Nandini have moved to their new premises next to the PTDC.