The members of the International Advisory Council had their meeting from August 29-31. The Governing Board met on September 1st.
On his recent visit to Auroville, Dr. Karan Singh visited the Matrimandir and spent some time in the Chamber. Foreground from left to right: Dr. Karan Singh, Pashi Kapoor, Alain Grandcolas and Roger Anger.
“This is my 16th visit to Auroville and these visits seem to have one thing in common, namely that there is always a Problem with a capital ‘P' to be resolved,” said Dr. Karan Singh, opening the interaction between the Governing Board (GB) and Auroville Working Groups on September 1st. The ‘P' in question was office order 105, which made co-signing of all cheques of Auroville's Unity Fund by the Secretary mandatory. This order had been fiercely objected to and, in consequence, the operation of the Unity Fund, which receives all donations from India and abroad, had come to a complete halt.
The matter was not only a subject of discussion within the Board. Earlier, two members of the International Advisory Council (IAC), Mr. Marc Luyckx Ghisi and Mr. Doudou Diène, had spent half a day discussing it with a large group of Aurovilians. They listened to concerns that Auroville's autonomy would be affected by the order; that the order would reduce Auroville to a Government Department rather than the autonomous body the Auroville Foundation is supposed to be; that only an estimated 5% of Auroville's total income comes from government sources and there seems to be no good reason why Auroville should not be allowed to manage the funds collected by the Aurovilians themselves; and that, if Auroville was seen as a ‘government project', people might leave Auroville while others would be discouraged from joining. A comparison was made with the well-known Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan in West Bengal , which could not attain its original objectives as specified by Rabindranath Tagore due to too much government interference.
The IAC, in its minutes published immediately after its meeting, reflected that though Aurovilians are the main actors of Auroville's development, there has been and continues to be a strong commitment of the Indian Government “without which the realization of Auroville's ideals would be impossible. The role of the Government is to protect and to facilitate Auroville's development in all its aspects. As and when possible, all decisions should and must be taken by the Aurovilians, in consultation with the representatives of the Governing Board. The Auroville Foundation can and should intervene only if there is incompetence or if the issues require the participation or involvement of the Government of India.” Calling for transparency, empowerment, participation and networking, the Council proposed that the Secretary, instead of being co-signatory, should become one of the executives of the Unity Fund which would thus make co-signing redundant.
The Board, too, reflected long on the issue. While its ex-officio members, representing the Government of India, stressed the applicability of well-tested government control systems on Auroville, others stressed Auroville's autonomy. Finally, a solution was worked out for a trial period of 6 months. The proposal of the IAC was modified to the extent that the Finance and Administrative Officer of the Auroville Foundation would become one of the executives of the Unity Fund; and it was agreed that for all cheques below Rs 500,000 no co-signing would be required.
The solution was accepted by Auroville and has meanwhile been implemented. A review after six months will show if there is any true need for the co-signing, and if there have been any problems operating the system. In the meantime, the applicability of government rules to an autonomous body like the Auroville Foundation will be studied further.
Will this issue be the last big ‘P' for some time to come? It may be. But most certainly all ‘p's will be overshadowed by an event with a capital ‘E' which was the second main topic on the agenda: the celebration of Auroville's 40th birthday. At the instigation of the IAC, and with the approval of the Aurovilians present, the GB decided to extend invitations to the present Director General of UNESCO, Mr Koishiro Matsuura, former Secretary General of the UN Mr. Kofi Annan, and former Secretary Generals of UNESCO Mr. M'Bow and Mr. Frederico Mayor, to attend the celebration on February 28th, 2008. The topic ‘Auroville and the Ideal of Human Unity' has been chosen as the theme of the symposium on that day. “This event,” said the IAC, “will further Auroville's ideals and development and enhance its visibility in India and in the world as a model experiment in the creation of a unitary vision that takes into account spirituality, cosmopolitanism and sustainable development.”
Both the IAC and GB members left Auroville satisfied. Also members of the Working Committee of Auroville's Residents' Assembly (RA) expressed satisfaction with ‘good meetings', which were seen as a further step towards a participatory government of Auroville that includes all three authorities of the Foundation: the GB, the IAC and the Residents' Assembly.