News & Notes 741:Report of the Working Committee over the month of February 2018
Report of the Working Committee over the month of February 2018
The work of the Working Committee focused this month on two main events, e.g. the visit of the hon'ble Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi to Auroville on February 25th, and the 51st meeting of the Governing Board on February 25th and 26th.
Visit of the Prime Minister of India
A note of thanks from the PM Task Force and the Working Committee has been published on the Auronet, as well as the congratulatory note of Dr. Karan Singh, the Chairman of the Auroville Foundation
Unfortunate events during the visit
Two unfortunate events occurred during this visit.
One was that two Tamil Aurovilians, members of the Working Committee, were not given a proximity pass, which they thought had been instigated by members of the PM Task Force. The Secretary of the Auroville Foundation subsequently emailed that none of the Working Committee members or the PM Task Force were involved in finalizing the list of persons getting Close Proximity Passes and that in his view nobody should be blamed for how the events unfolded. We don't know who made the decision to exclude them.
The matter has caused a lot of hurt to all involved and is being addressed by the Auroville Council.
The issue of perceived discrimination was subsequently discussed by them and a few other Tamil Aurovilians with Dr. Karan Singh, who afterwards wrote to the Auroville community expressing his concerns. This letter has been published on the Auronet. A reply will be formulated.
The second unfortunate event was that an Aurovilian sent a private email to the Prime Minister's office less than 48 hours before the visit, stating that 5,000 Aurovilians would have liked to hear the Prime Minister's speech but that only 250 had received a pass. This information is incorrect and caused a lot of consternation. The matter will be discussed with the Aurovilian concerned.
Prayers and aspirations from the Auroville community sent to the Prime Minister
After the visit, the Working Committee has sent a letter to the Prime Minister asking his help in the following areas:
- Protection and purchase of remaining land for Auroville: The Prime Minister has been asked to ensure that the Auroville Foundation are given the required permissions to sell certain outlying lands as to be decided by the Residents' Assembly of Auroville so that the privately-owned lands inside the city and greenbelt area can be purchased. Additionally, the Prime Minister has been asked for his advice on ways and means to protect Auroville from the influence of undesirable developments which could jeopardise the growth of Auroville.
- Tax relief for donors of the Auroville Foundation: The Prime Minister has been asked to promote that donors of the Auroville Foundation can benefit from 100% tax relief without a qualifying limit for all donations made to the Auroville Foundation.
- National and international support for Auroville: The Prime Minister has been asked to convey a message to International and National leadership of countries and corporations to actively engage in the manifestation of Auroville by making donations from their CSR budgets.
- Liberal Visa regime to include Integral Yoga: The Prime Minister has been asked to expand the definition of Yoga in India's Tourist Visa regime and for the benefit of seekers who come to serve Mother India in the spirit of Integral Yoga.
- Auroville becoming a hub for youth of India and the World: The Prime Minister has been asked for his help in expanding housing projects in Auroville by building spaces for 500 youth, so as to provide an environment for youth from all over the world to experience a new healthy life style and carry this further to the regions they come from, and beyond.
Meeting with the Governing Board
The meeting with the Governing Board members took place over two days. On February 25th, the report of the Working Committee was discussed (see below); a presentation by the new members of L'Avenir d'Auroville was made, introducing the new team and report on work done; and the land and land protection team discussed issues of statutory land protection (New Town Development Authority) and the need to develop a Land Purchase Policy and Strategy. There was regretfully no time for the Auroville Council to discuss its presentation on Auroville's governance
On the 26th, after participating in the Bhoomi poojas for the Re-Centre and the Hive Hub, and the inauguration of the Auroville Archives, the Board members listened to a presentation on the Auroville economy by Chartered Accountant Mr. Manuel Thomas. This presentation focused on the difficulties facing the Auroville economy including that of attracting external growth capital for Auroville enterprises, the need to explore sources for internal credit, and a proposal to do a 6-months study involving the Working Committee, the Funds and Assets Management Committee and the Auroville Board of Commerce and community members into the possible restructuring of the units under the Auroville Foundation.
This was followed by a presentation by the Funds and Assets Management Committee on the difficulties facing the Auroville Foundation regarding the implementation of GST, and the necessity of requesting a partial relief.
The last topic on the agenda was the loss of Auroville's beach assets. The Board listened to a presentation by Jan, and discussed possible options to prevent further loss of beach assets.
The Working Committee brought the following concerns to the attention of the Board members:
- Governing Board and International Advisory Council, Auroville Foundation: We expressed the hope that the HRD Ministry will soon fill the vacancies in the Governing Board and appoint the five new members of the International Advisory Council.
- Auroville Foundation (Entry and Removal of names of Persons in the Register of Residents) Regulations 2013: We requested the Board to ensure that the HRD Ministry approves the Governing Board approved ‘Entry and Removal of names of Persons in the Register of Residents Regulations 2013’. It is now 4 years that this approval is pending.
- Rules of the Auroville Foundation: We requested the Board to ensure that the proposed changes in the Rules of the Auroville Foundation are approved by the HRD Ministry. This change is pending since almost 20 years and is of particular importance because the existing Rules specify that the HRD permission is required for any land sales in excess of a value of Rs 5 lakhs. It has been proposed that this limitation is changed into Rs 2 crores.
- GOI Grant: We informed the Board about the Government of India Grant Group and its mode of functioning, which now includes a project management office with an architect and a civil engineer to monitor the quality and quantity of construction, and a finance department with an in-house charted accountant and a finance person supervising and approving financial flow of money.
We subsequently reported that the full allocated GOI Grant of Rs 15 crore for the financial year 2017-2018 will be spent and presented details of the spending by the various beneficiaries. The Board was then asked to approved the proposed GOI Grant allocation of the financial year 2018-2019, which has been budgetted at a total of Rs 23 core.
- Visa issues: The Board was informed about the recent changes in the visa policy for Auroville. The Regional Registration Office in Pondicherry may now issue 5-year Residential Permits / Stay Visa extensions to those who arrive in India with a shorter term Entry Visa, if the formal request by the Secretary of the Auroville Foundation to the Indian Mission abroad which issued the Visa had been to issue an Entry Visa for 5 years. These 5-year visas and their extensions have a limitation of 3 entries a year, which can be twice extended at the advice of the Secretary in emergency cases.
The Ministry of Home Affairs also decided that volunteers may be given an Entry Visa for a three-month period, upon the recommendation of the Secretary. This period is not extendable and the visa is for one entry only.
Conference visa are mandatory for those wishing to attend workshops and conferences in Auroville. A number of conference visa have meanwhile been issued at the recommendation of the Secretary, Auroville Foundation. However, this requires a timely application.
The issue of holders of tourist visa not being allowed to attend workshops and seminars has not been resolved. As one of the objectives of Auroville is to develop into a learning society for the benefit of people from India and all over the world, which come in the form of formal courses, seminars, workshops, or volunteering, the Ministry of Home Affairs has been requested to allow foreign nationals holding a tourist visa to give or participate in seminars, workshops and courses given by and volunteer at institutions of the Auroville Foundation.
The Ministry has not responded to our request that Auroville residents of foreign origin who have been residing in Auroville for a consecutive period of 15 years or more can be given a special Indian residents status such as OCI or residential permits for 10 or 20 years.
- Fundraising issues: There is a need to speedily develop the Auroville Township for which an increase of funds is required. A major source of support for Auroville can be achieved if large Indian corporations would make donations to Auroville from their Corporate Social Responsibility resources.
The Governing Board has been requested to issue a message at the occasion of Auroville’s 50th Anniversary inviting nations of the world, States of India, Corporates and Indian public sector undertakings that the Auroville Foundation is to be included in the list of institutions that are eligible for CSR donations.
- Land sale permission: The Governing Board has been requested to support the request made to the Prime Minister of India that the Auroville Foundation are given the required permissions to sell certain outlying lands as decided by the Residents' Assembly of Auroville so that the privately-owned lands inside the city and greenbelt area can be purchased.
- Tax relief for donors of the Auroville Foundation: The Governing Board has been requested to support the request made to the Prime Minister of India to promote that donors of the Auroville Foundation can benefit from 100% tax relief without a qualifying limit for all donations made to the Auroville Foundation.
Internal group dynamics
The group healing session to improve our group dynamics has not yet begun. The Auroville Council has meanwhile suggested that a Restorative Circle be formed to address the issues. Manas and Sheba have attended a few meetings as observer to see how the meeting processes can be improved.
The members of the Residents' Service are under high pressure to answer to the demands of the Regional Registration Office. All residents are required to check the validity of their passports and Residential Permits and inform the Residents' Service timely when they wish to depart for the summer.
The Working Committee
(Carel, Hemant, Inge, Mandakini, Partha, Ranjith and Sauro)