WAV 002:Report of the Working Committee of the month of June 2019

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WAV 002 icon.jpg   The Weekly Auroville 002
8 July 2019

Report of the Working Committee of the month of June 2019

During the month of June a few members were out of station. Chali will assume office mid-July. We have sometimes been functioning with a minimum number of four members.

The main topics dealt with for the month of June were:

1) New Secretary, Auroville Foundation

We welcome Dr. G. Seetharaman, Registrar, National Institute of Technology, Puducherry, headquartered in Karaikal, who has been appointed as Secretary, Auroville Foundation in addition to his function as Registrar. Mr. Seetharaman will function as interim Secretary. He plans to come to Auroville once a week to deal with all administrative matters pertaining to Auroville.

2) Meetings in New Delhi

On behalf of the Working Committee, Sauro visited New Delhi in the beginning of the month. He met with officials of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development to discuss issues related to statutory land protection for Auroville; and with GB member and Joint Secretary HRD Ministry Dr. Saravana Kumar, Governing Board member Dr. Anirban Ganguly and Governing Board Chairman Dr. Karan Singh about various issues such as: the appointment of the new Secretary; the 8 acres cases; the ongoing land problems at Acceptance and Pitchandikulam (see below); the old case of the gold theft at the Matrimandir; the NTDA (see below); the proper implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (see below); and the report of the Governing Board appointed enquiry committee into the allegations voiced by Mr. Vikram Ram (this report is yet to be released).

3) New Town Development Authority (NTDA) in Auroville

The Governing Board, in its 53rd meeting of February 2019, expressed concern about “the inordinate delay” to come to a decision on the NTDA and advised that a decision be taken by the Working Committee before 30th June 2019, “otherwise Governing Board will have to take a decision on NTDA for the Auroville Master Plan Area.”

The Working Committee has meanwhile informed the Board that the Land Protection Group has in April and May met with a “Sounding Board,” a group of Auroville residents representing different aspects of Auroville, to understand the opinion of a representative sample of the community.

While there is agreement that private development within the Master Plan is one of the most serious challenges facing Auroville, there is no consensus on the possible solution. On one side there are apprehensions that the constitution of an NTDA will infringe the autonomy of the Auroville Foundation, that it will not be an adequate guarantee that the Auroville Master Plan will be respected, and that an NTDA will bring more administrative and bureaucratic work. Others felt that only a statutory land use approved by an appropriate planning authority has a strong grounding to be legally enforced.

As during discussions in the last few months with authorities in Delhi and Chennai the possibility to explore more alternative options have emerged, the Working Committee has requested the Governing Board to give time until the next Governing Board meeting for further discussions and research on this subject.

4) Land disputes Acceptance and Pitchandikulam

It was brought to the knowledge of the Working Committee that on 29.05.2019 person called Mr. Subramanian and friends, accompanied by a JCB machine and granite pillars, paid a visit to Pitchandikulam Forest and Acceptance to claim lands inside the community and stating that he has won a court case for possession of these lands. The Auroville Foundation was not party to this court case.

The lands were purchased in the year 1974 by the Sri Aurobindo Society and then given to the Auroville Foundation; since then Auroville is enjoying the lands peacefully.

The Land Board together with the Working Committee has filed a suit for declaration and injunction in the PDM court, Tindivanam.

5) Land dispute near Certitude Farm

On 09.06.2019, a Sunday, a group of people from Edaiyanchavady trespassed into Auroville farm land near Certitude and damaged the existing fence and made an attempt to build a hut. They claimed ownership of 13 cents of land. Police intervention prevented further damage. The Land Board’s internal survey team measured and reported that there is no 13 cents available on ground. An official government survey has been requested.

6) Report on discrimination by Dr. Prema Nandakumar and Dr. Nirima Oza

The report dt. 14-12-2018 by Dr. Prema Nandakumar and Dr. Oza, regarding complaints of discrimination in Auroville, was sent to the Working Committee on May 27th in hard copy by the Secretary, Auroville Foundation, with the explicit instruction that "This report is not for general circulation."

To our amazement Mr. Balu recently published this report on the Auronet, Auroville’s internal website, together with his “thank you” letter to the Board members.

Mr. Srinivasamurty has informed us that neither the former Secretary, nor he himself, have given this report to Mr. Balu. Dr. Prema Nandakumar informed us she had sent the report to the Chairman only.

We have now found that the report was sent by Mr. Vikram Ram to Mr. Floyd Chatterjee, who sent it to the Aurosangamam list.

We have no idea how this confidential report came into the possession of Mr. Vikram Ram. We are also concerned that Auroville residents are collaborating with Mr. Vikram Ram, who is known for his attempts to discredit Auroville with the Indian authorities.

We have requested the Governing Board to initiate an investigation into this matter.

7) The Auroville Internal Complaints Committee and the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act

a) Change of membership

On October 10, 2018 the Working Committee appointed Niva Kovshi, Anbu Moris, Paula Murphy, Kathy Walkling and Dr. Ms. Vidyaa Ramkumar (external member) as members of the Auroville Internal Complaints Committee for a period of 3 years, effective from 24th October 2018. On December 4, 2018, the Working Committee in addition appointed Dr. Palani Muthuganapathy as member. Kathy resigned with effect from 6th May 2019 and Dr. Palani Muthuganapathy with effect from 13th May 2019. In their stead we have appointed Pierangela Raccagni (Angela) and Mr. Iyyappan Jayamoorthy. These new appointments will take effect from May 23rd, 2019. Their term of office will end at the same time as that of the other ICC members, e.g. on October 23rd, 2021.

b) Employer situation

In our report over the month of May we mentioned that the Chairman of the Governing Board had obtained a clarification from ex-officio Governing Board member and Joint Secretary Dr. Saravana Kumar I.A.S., issued with the approval of Hon'ble Minister for Human Resource Development, that the Governing Board can vest the powers of dealing with sexual harassment cases in Auroville to the Working Committee, designating the Working Committee as the "Employer". Dr. Karan Singh requested the former Secretary, Auroville Foundation, to give the required instructions.
However, this instruction has not come. The former Secretary informed us that the matter will be brought before the next meeting of the Governing Board at the request of one of the Board members and that for that reason he could not issue the instruction.
This may endanger the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, as no action can be taken against four persons against whom the Auroville Internal Complaint Committee has recommended action to be taken. For that reason, we have asked the Governing Board if it is willing to take on the responsibility of implementing the ICC's recommendations in sexual harassment cases till the issue of "employer" is settled.

c) Internal appeal

The former Secretary of the Auroville Foundation has requested us to investigate the possibilities of internal appeal under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act. We have discussed this with lawyer Mohan from Chennai. Following his advice, we have asked Dr. Karan Singh to interact with the Ministry of Human Resource Development to see if the Ministry could issue an order on the applicability of the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act to the Auroville Foundation, including an appeal provision.

8) The use of the name and symbol of Auroville as trademark

The use of the name and symbol of Auroville as a trademark was discussed with lawyer Mohan.

It was found that both the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 and the Trademarks Act 1999, prohibit the registration of a protected name as trademark. The name and symbol of Auroville enjoy legal protection.

It follows that the name and symbol of Auroville cannot be registered as a trademark and that all trademarks having the name and/or symbol of Auroville that have been registered are in contravention of the law. The Auroville Foundation has been requested to take appropriate action to de-register such trademarks.

9) Rave party near Alankuppam

An article in The Hindu reported about Auroville Residents attending a Rave party nearby Alankuppam on the night of 8th June, which was ‘busted’ by the police. This has led to a report of the police to the Auroville Foundation with the request “to take appropriate action”, and to questions of members of the Governing Board.

We informed the Board members that the report of the police mentioned an unlawful "Dance Jackie " Music Festival nearby Alankuppam, (not a Rave Party as mentioned in The Hindu). The report had attached a list of 13 names, one of which was fake. Eleven of the twelve people came to a meeting called by the Working Committee and submitted a joint statement. It was found that only 5 Auroville residents attended the party; the others were either volunteers or employees. Two people (employees) had no intention to attend the party but were passersby, and were stopped and brought there by the police.

None of these persons were inebriated and none were found to be in possession of or using any marihuana or other forbidden substances. None were aware that the party was unlawful and that the organizers had no license to sell beer. The party had been announced on social media. The police did not arrest any of these people.

In response to the questions of one member of the Board we have stated that Auroville Residents do not organize any of such parties outside Auroville, and that Auroville teenagers or highschool students did not attend this party. We further replied that we are not aware of any Ayawaska rituals in or around Auroville; that no cases of drug abuse have been reported to the Working Committee; and that no Aurovilian has ever been deported or removed from the Register of Residents on drug-related charges.

10) Status Mr. Sraddahalu Ranade

We received a request from AVI Canada, Quebec, for information about Mr. Shraddhalu Ranade's status since he has resumed his classes at Savitri Bhavan. The former Working Committee had requested Savitri Bhavan on March 2, 2012, to discontinue Shraddhalu’s talks in view of the events that had taken place at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

We have asked Savitri Bhavan for a clarification. We were informed that in April 2018, after several weeks of discussions, the Management Team of Savitri Bhavan agreed to the request voiced by a large number of Aurovilians for the resumption of Sraddhalu’s talks on The Synthesis of Yoga, and the sessions have been continuing regularly since then.

11) Auronet moderation - Rules and Guidelines

The Auroville Council and the Working Committee have decided to restart the conversation about moderation of Auronet discussions. A draft set of rules and guidelines is being discussed and the community will be consulted soon.

12) Security protocol for disturbances at workshops/venues

The Auroville Council and the Working Committee, together with the Auroville Safety and Security Service, are working on a protocol on what to do when there is a disturbance at an Auroville workshop or venue which involves public nuisance, physical violence and sexual harassment or assault. A draft protocol is being discussed and will be published soon.

13) Gold theft at Matrimandir

One member of the Governing Board has recently alerted the Chairman, Governing Board, about the fact that in June 2017 gold ornaments went missing from the Matrimandir safe. We have informed the Board that the Working Committee was never involved in this issue. When the theft was discovered, the Matrimandir executives alerted the Secretary, Auroville Foundation, immediately and a police complaint was filed. The Secretary reports directly to the Governing Board.

The Working Committee
Carel, Manas, Mandakini, Partha, Ranjith, Sauro.