The concept of Auroville's Industrial
Zone is changing into an Economic Zone, one of three economic
zones in Auroville
The Industrial Zone, though being the smallest
of the four zones of Auroville, has the maximum amount of land
features. It has the most canyons; it has low-lying waterlogged
lands; it has excellent farm-lands. The rich soil in its environs
has been under cultivation for generations, giving rise to the
neighbouring villages of Bharatipuram and Alankuppam. Its density,
in contrast to other areas of Auroville, is high. Agricultural
farms and manufacturing industries intermingle with residential
settlements, a pony riding school and the substantial pieces of
land that Auroville has not yet been able to purchase. "This
makes it so difficult in terms of logistics to introduce new industries,"
explains Sheril. Together with Alok, Bobby, Suhasini and Mona,
she has run since March 2003 the Industrial Zone Group. "Whenever
someone wants to start a business in the Industrial Zone, the
request is discussed in the group and there follows a rather tedious
process involving the entire neighbourhood. Where can the business
be best located? What is its impact on the environment? Where
does it get its water from? What are its electricity demands?
Can we give access to existing infrastructure? Does the unit intend
to build caretaker houses or staff quarters? Are the finances
sufficient to pay for the buildings and the extensive infrastructure?
For Auroville's Industrial Zone is not comparable to industrial
zones elsewhere: there are no demarcated plots with water and
electricity brought to the doorstep."
"So far, the development of the Zone has happened in a more
or less haphazard way," adds Suhasini. "A few years
ago Aurosarjan built a rather big factory building, which later
became known as Aurobhakti. Aurosarjan's executives resigned when
the building was finished, and their successors were not able
to keep up the business. Ultimately the building was split-up
to house several smaller units. This taught us some valuable lessons.
One large building where many units can rent spaces is more needed
than the one -unit one-plot development everybody had been thinking
of before. The food producing units Naturellement, Aurosoya
and New School Crafts have also realised this and are now building
their units jointly. The infrastructure costs are high, and most
units, when they are ready to build, are not capital rich. It
is better to build multi-purpose spaces which units can rent."
The Master Plan interpretation
A problem is caused by the ideas that have been put forward for
the Zone. Says Suhasini: "One of the major disagreements
that has blocked development is the interpretation of the Auroville
Master Plan, with its road plans and mega-structures called
Lines of Force.
The Master Plan envisages these Lines of Force in two of Auroville's
zones, the Residential and the Industrial Zone. The Cultural
Zone and the International
Zone do not have them. In the Residential Zone, they will
start low close to the Matrimandir and gradually rise to their
highest point at the periphery of the city. In the Industrial
Zone they go the other way: they are low at the periphery and
rise upwards towards the Matrimandir. So far, the Development
Group has made it a point to locate new industries within such
lines of force. Lorenzo's workshop is supposed to be part of one
of them. The incense manufacturing unit Mereville, which wants
to build a factory, has been asked to study how it can become
part of another Line of Force. Personally, I do not see how industries
can be located in Lines of Force. But in our group we have decided
to leave this discussion for the future. We superimposed the present
land use on the Master Plan with its Lines of Force, its ring
road and its radial roads, to see what is left. And then it appears
that there is very little land where a new unit could come up.
The other available lands are either not yet owned by Auroville,
or are intended for roads or Lines of Force, or are canyons. In
the end, we are always looking at the same three or four small
plots: the area around Angiras' Garden, Kottakarai Farm, Ganesh
Bakery and the Pony farm; the area of the former Red-Earth riding
school; and the Auroshilpam area."
Is it possible to increase the area of available land by simply
filling up the canyons, for example with sand to be excavated
from the future Matrimandir Lake? "That is exactly the wrong
attitude!" bristles Mona. "That would obstruct the natural
flow of the land and water. What would happen to the villages?
To their ponds and the traditional systems that they built around
it? You can't act as if you live upstream and not be responsible
for the damage this would cause downstream. What about this 'city
of consciousness' story? Such a blunt move would irreparably damage
our relationship with the villages! No, for the time being we
can only concentrate on these three areas."
Waste, water and access
A few years ago the lack of effluent treatment plants in the Zone
sparked a protest action from the residents of Kottakarai. Asked
if this is still a problem, Amrit shakes his head. "In 1999,
the then Industrial Zone Monitoring Group resigned as it found
that the attitude of many unit executives in the Auroshilpam area
was not supportive of the development of an environmentally-healthy
Industrial Zone. This was a major issue as the Industrial Zone
is located on top of a water recharge area. But the units have
completely changed their attitudes and are now very responsible:
they have either improved their waste water systems or are in
the process of doing so. Several units have even taken out loans
for the purpose. In a way, the past years with bad monsoons have
helped to convince people that water is a precious resource and
that waste water management is necessary. Ironically, the private
residences are now the problem, and we are urging them to take
action and build small-scale waste-water treatment plants."
Water is still a problem in the Zone. There are two bore wells
that presently supply most of the area, but their output is not
sufficient. Moreover, the water of one of the wells is not potable,
and can only be used for flushing toilets and gardening. There
is agreement that another well will have to be dug before the
Zone can house more industries. Explains Amrit: "We want
to develop an integrated system, where the three wells are hooked-up.
Individual units will not be allowed to drill and operate their
own bore-wells. Instead, we aim for a central distribution system
with one or two large underground water tanks and generator back-up.
The units will have their own underground and overhead tanks to
monitor their water consumption. We rejected the idea of having
one central overhead water tank, as the experience of the Residential
Zone has taught us that an overhead tank only contributes to water
The other problem is that of access. At present, traffic for the
Zone passes Bharat Nivas and Matrimandir. To divert the traffic
from the centre, access to the Zone should be from the Kottakarai-Alankuppam
tar road. Says Suhasini: "The main problem is that a crucial
piece of land is still not owned by Auroville. We are talking
with the Farm Group about how we can create a link to the tar
road, either on the side of Windarra farm or through a piece of
Auroville land close by Bharatipuram. In the latter case, a road
could also be opened behind the pony farm, and a piece of land
which is situated next to Bharatipuram could be opened for industrial
development. The villages would welcome that, as there is dissatisfaction
that they haven't got as much benefit from the presence of Auroville
as the villages of Edayanchavadi and Kuilapalayam.
The change of vision
But what is the vision of the Industrial Zone? This was the central
question of a two-day workshop held in the beginning of March
this year, which was attended by most of those who live or work
in the Zone. The Master Plan was analysed in the light of the
ground realities and the immediate needs. Based on the feedback
provided, the Group is now preparing a coherent 5-year development
plan for the Zone.
The workshop brought a number of surprises. The major one came
up when trying to find an answer to the question of who would
work in the Industrial Zone. Right now about 1,500 Aurovilians
employ about 4,000 people. If this trend continues, the ultimate
population of 50,000 Aurovilians would employ about 140,000 people,
many of whom would be working in the Industrial Zone. This seems
to be unrealistic, particularly as the villagers that are presently
employed by the units seek to educate their children for white
collar jobs. This makes the prospect of depending on the nearby
villages for the kind of labour we are used to not feasible.
"The unit executives provided us with some startling information,"
says Sheril. "They mentioned that having more than 30 to
60 employees was not beneficial either economically or in terms
of management. Most units are now outsourcing their production.
Instead of bringing labour and raw materials into Auroville, the
work is brought where the people are. This has tremendous advantages.
The unit reduces its infrastructural requirements and potential
labour problems, as everything scales up just by bringing the
people there. The zone has less environmental pressure. And the
people don't have to travel long periods every day. For many employees
come from beyond the surrounding villages. Auromode operates two
vans to collect its employees, Mereville brings people from Pondicherry.
But this is a costly operation."
Adds Alok: "The Industrial Zone is in fact a rather remote
area, located as it is to the north of Auroville. Auroville's
commercial units are not exactly lining up to move there. Those
units that are at present established in the area around Kuilapalayam
have no intention to move whatsoever. It is much more convenient
to remain where they are, with close access to the East Coast
Road. The workshop acknowledged the reality of those 'satellite
economic zones', and recommended that the Aspiration-Fraternity-Aurelec
area and the Kottakarai-Koot Road area be acknowledged in the
Master Plan as additional nodes of industrial development.
Another problem of the remoteness of the Zone is that we can't
easily find highly-educated people to work there. I run an Info
Tech company. If I would run that company in Pondicherry, there
would be 50 people lined up to work for me each day. As I don't
want to be in Pondicherry, I started the unit in the Pondicherry
Engineering College - about 10 kilometres outside Pondicherry
on the East Coast Road. The programmers were quite happy, but
I wanted to be back in Auroville. So, I moved to the Aurelec compound,
but I lost some employees and find it difficult to recruit good
programmers. I have begun outsourcing several projects to companies
in Pondy. Auroville is still a village and doesn't have the technical
infrastructure or the social atmosphere for IT industries."
"So the workshop came up with a different perspective,"
says Mona. "Instead of an 'industrial zone' with its rather
negative connotations of dirt and pollution and the deserted feeling
in the evenings, we are now speaking of the Auroshilpam Economic
Zone. It is essentially a low-level manufacturing zone, where
offices will be located for research and development, where samples
and prototypes will be developed and where the management will
be housed. The bulk of the manufacturing will be outsourced to
areas where labour is immediately available. The Zone would rather
provide employment to Aurovilians than to employees coming from
outside, and hopefully, it would also have industries there that
exclusively cater to the needs of Aurovilians. Apart from this,
there will be a certain amount of social activities. The Vérité
community is expanding with a new integral learning centre and
many more buildings are expected to come up there. The Kottakarai
guesthouse facilities have expanded. We hope that facilities like
cafeterias with internet facilities, crèches and spaces
for recreation will come up as well. It all should result in a
zone with a different, a harmonious vibration of energy. And for
the time being, there would be no need to relocate the pony farm
or use the farmland of Kottakarai for industrial purposes."
"The Group's major task now is to prepare the first Development
Plan for the Auroshilpam Economic Zone," says Sheril. When
we have received all the necessary data, we'll try to visualize
what Auroville needs and can manifest in the next 5 years. Once
the Development Plan is ready, it will be offered to the community
for its approval. We'll restrict the plan to a 5-year period as
much can change."
See Russian translation