Auroville Foundation receives NGT nod to complete the Crown Road project, Aurovillians continue protests

Reported by

Hariprasad Radhakrishnan

Legal Data by

Anmol Gupta, Mukta Joshi

Edited by

Radhika Chatterjee

Updated by

Published on

June 22, 2022

June 22, 2022

Updated on

June 22, 2022

Location of Conflict

Auroville

Puducherry

Villupuram

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Environmental/Ecological Damage

Development of Crown Road in its current alignment

(

Eco-Sensitive Zone

)

People Affected by Conflict

3305

Households Affected by Conflict

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

5

ha

Starting Year

2021

State

Tamil Nadu

Sector

Land Use

On April 28, 2022, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued an order allowing Auroville Foundation to continue the implementation of Crown Road project in Auroville, but with some caveats. Following this, the Auroville Foundation razed two houses in the township.

Auroville is a cultural township spread over 20 Square Kilometre across Tamil Nadu and northern Puduchhery. Its residents include citizens from around the world. It enjoys a special autonomous status and is governed by the Auroville Foundation Act, 1988. It's day-to-day management is run by the Auroville Foundation, which in turn functions under the administrative control of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.

The conflict in Auroville Township started on December 2, 2021, when the Auroville Town Development Council (ATDC) sent an email to the Youth Centre informing them that the work on clearing the 16.7m ‘right of way’ would begin in a week. However, the ATDC started felling trees to make way for the Crown road project on December 4. Several Auroville residents gathered on the spot to protest the tree felling.

The Crown road project is a part of Auroville's Universal Township Master Plan – Perspective 2025. The layout of this plan includes a circular inner ring know as the 'Crown', 12 radial roads and an outer ring. Stretching over a length of 4.3 Kilometre, the crown road has a right of way of 16.07 metres wide. This road has been planned as a key part of the township that will provide service facilities to its different zones. As per the current plan, the Crown road will pass through forest and river catchment areas, and involve felling of trees in Darkali and Bliss forests in Auroville.

The Master Plan was first prepared in 1999 by residents of Auroville and approved by the Resident's Assembly under the Auroville Foundation Act, 1988. The Governing Body of Auroville felt the need to consult planners for that plan at the state and national level. This resulted in the formulation of the Universal Township plan in 2001. This was approved by the then Ministry of Human Resource Development and Auroville's Governing Body. It was however not submitted again to the Resident's Assembly for its approval. The plan was finally gazetted in 2010 by the Auroville Foundation.

The implementation of this plan adopted a greater pace in 2021, marked by felling of trees by the Auroville Foundation. This occurred despite several concerns raised by Auroville residents, and a decision made by Auroville's Resident's Assembly to stop all development on the Crown road. The pressure to complete the project comes at the heels of the recent appointment of a new secretary to the Auroville Foundation by the Union government. During this period, Auroville residents who have been protesting the implementation of Crown road, proposed an alternative alignment for the road that would bypass two water catchment areas and the forest. But the Foundation did not take accept the proposal.

On December 10, 2021, the NGT issued a stay order against further felling of trees. However, residents alleged that digging of trenches went on December 18, 2021. In its order issued on April 28, 2022, besides permitting the Auroville Foundation to continue with the project, NGT also established a joint committee. This committee is expected to submit a report in two months on ways by which the number of trees felled may be minimised.

Sandeep Vinod Sarah, one of the two petitioners who approached the NGT, told LCW that at least 50 houses and many other buildings in Auroville are identified in the Crown road project and face the threat of demolition. "No authority other than the Residents' Assembly, or a body given authority by it, has the power to ask residents to shift from a place. But, there is a blatant misuse of power by the [Auroville] Town Development Council and the Secretary of the Foundation," he said. "We are currently awaiting the report from the joint committee appointed by the NGT. However, in the meanwhile, the Foundation has been taking up levelling work and laying high-tension cables in parts that were already cleared, before the status quo order arrived, in violation of the Residents' Assembly's directions."

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Opposition against environmental degradation

Demand to cancel the project

Demand to retain/protect access to common land/resources

Other Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Region Classification

Urban

Type of Land

Common

Type of Common Land

Non-Forest (Other than Grazing Land), Forest and Non-Forest

Total investment involved (in Crores):

Type of investment:

Year of Estimation

Page Number In Investment Document:

Has the Conflict Ended?

No

When did it end?

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Legislations/Policies Involved

Auroville Foundation Act, 1988
Section 17(e) [Governing Board of Auroville Foundation to have power to prepare master plan in consultation with Residents’ Assembly and to ensure development of Auroville], Section 27 [Act to have overriding effect over existing law, notwithstanding any provision contrary to any other law]
Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
Section 2 [Forestland cannot be used for any non-forest purpose without prior approval from the the Union government]
Electricity Act, 2003
Section 2(13) [Definition of development to include carrying out any works contemplated in a master plan prepared under this Act]
Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act, 1971
Section 2(13) [Definition of development to include carrying out any works contemplated in a master plan prepared under this Act]
Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006
Schedule, Item 8(b) [Township projects to be considered under this provision of the Schedule. Projects to be appraised as Category B1 projects.]
In re: T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India and Ors. (WP (C) No. 202 of 1995, Supreme Court)
[The Supreme Court held that the word forest has to be understood according to its dictionary meaning. This description covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise. Further, “forest land” according to Forest Conservation Act must also include any area recorded as forest by the Government irrespective of ownership.]
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    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

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    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

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    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community?

What was the Decision of the Concerned Government Department?

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Violation of environmental laws

Non-consultation with stakeholders

Violation of free prior informed consent

Lack of legal protection over land rights

Legal Status:

Out of Court

Status of Case In Court

Disposed

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

No

Name of the adjudicatory body

Name(s) of the Court(s)

National Green Tribunal, Southern Bench

Case Number

Original Application no. 239 of 2021

Main Reasoning/Decision of court

On April 28, 2022, the Southern Bench of the NGT passed a judgment in the case. It directed the Auroville Foundation to prepare a proper township plan and then apply for Environmental Clearance as the project falls under Item 8(b) of the EIA Notification, 2006. Without the same, the Foundation was directed to not proceed with further construction. However, the Tribunal allowed the Foundation to complete the Crown Road subject to a number of conditions. A Joint Committee consisting to district collector, a forest officer and the chief wildlife warden of the state had to inspect the area to minimize the number of trees to be cut as well as check whether any water bodies exist in the area. The Tribunal also directed the foundation to plant trees in a ratio of 1:10 for the number of trees to be cut. In the judgment, the Tribunal concluded that the forestry in the area does not fall under the definition of forest under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Hence, they would not have to obtain clearance under the same.

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

Physical attack

Blackmail/threats/intimidation

Arrest/detention/imprisonment

Displacement

Whether criminal law was used against protestors:

Reported Details of the Violation:

Auroville residents were allegedly manhandled and detained by the Police late at night. The police officials were escorting the officials of ATDC, who had reached the Bliss forest with bulldozers to uproot trees to clear the way for the Crown Road project.

Date of Violation

December 4, 2021

Location of Violation

Auroville

Nature of Protest

Protests/marches

Media-based activism/alternative media

Objections as part of official procedures

Complaints/petitions/letters/memorandums to officials

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

Auroville Town Development Council, Auroville International Board, Working Committee, Auroville Foundation

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

Communities/Local Organisations in the Conflict:

Residents' Assembly, Youth Centre, Auroville Outreach Media

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:
A map of the proposed and alternative routes of the Crown road.

A map of the proposed and alternative routes of the Crown road.

Image Credit:  

standforaurovilleunity

A map of the proposed and alternative routes of the Crown road.

A picture of a bulldozer razing two "unauthorized" houses in Auroville.

Image Credit:  

standforaurovilleunity

Stand for Auroville Unity

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Reviewed By

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Updated By

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